Review: The Girl with Glass Feet (Ali Shaw)

Before I launch into today’s review, I should explain the long gap in posting. I have been quite the busy bee lately, finally netting a much-wanted job in the publishing industry. I start next week and have been understandably rushing about trying to find a place to live before I move back to Oxford. However, I am returning and will be back soon with reviews of Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child and (yes, I’m jumping on a bandwagon, and very enthusiastically so!) The Hunger Games trilogy. So please look out for that, and in the meantime, please also follow me on Twitter!

“There were more layers to a person than an analogy of vests and anoraks could sustain, and she suspected that while you were peeling the outer layers away, new ones were being stitched together on the outside.”

Quick Review

I gave The Girl with Glass Feet ★★★

Why you should read this book: This book isn’t going to grab you at the first page, but it will slowly draw you in with each paragraph. It’s an unwinding of a tale, with many different elements. You probably won’t like the characters, but you will want to understand and piece their connections together. This is a highly imaginative first novel from Ali Shaw and only speaks of greater things to come. The middling rating is because this is a book that requires a second read – it isn’t a novel that you can connect to on a first meeting.

Full Review

Another intriguing Kindle Daily Deal purchase. I rarely read Amazon reviews because I find them invariably misleading when it comes to books, and often awash with spoilers. However, I read the reviews for this offering by Ali Shaw, and noticed that it was rather a mixed bag amongst the top reviews.

This is a difficult one for me to review myself because even two weeks after finishing it, I’m still unsure of my feelings towards it. In some ways, The Girl with Glass Feet was succinct and insightful, and in others, it came across as unsure and unfocused. This is just one reviewer’s point of view, but I don’t always find myself on such a rollercoaster of opinion about a book. Unless it has a terribly written ending, I’m generally clued up about halfway in as to whether I like it or not.

At this point, you’re probably going to be sceptical when I tell you to give this one a read. Yes, there were elements I didn’t enjoy, but there is plenty to feast on for a reader looking for something a bit different.

Let’s first look at the plot. We have Midas Crook, a young photographer who shares brief, but frequent glimpses into his childhood and the lives his parents led, whilst seeming determined to keep everyone, including the reader, at a distance. Then there is Ida McLaird. A young woman touched by a bizarre and frightening affliction; she is slowly but surely turning into glass. This initially appears to be the central plot, but it frequently fades into the background as we learn more about Ida and Midas’s parents and the characters around them, and how they fit into a much wider story.

My favourite characters were certainly not the central ones, and I think that’s a good thing. Midas and Ida are not likeable people – as readers, we are held at a distance and allowed to examine their flaws with literary magnifying glasses. In fact, everybody in this tale is flawed and Shaw ensures his reader notices it. Often, we can grow to love characters despite their flaws, but this is usually achieved through a sense of closeness to the character and their motivations. A Mary-Sue-style character can rarely be successful because there is little true humanity in such a depiction – we cannot relate to someone who is perfect. Shaw draws this out to an extreme and as a result, although I appreciated the drive of each character, I could not grow to like them because I was constantly reminded of their faults. I haven’t quite made my mind up about this yet.

Putting aside my indecision on those matters, I cannot fault Shaw for his approach to prose. Every character, every scene, every emotion is written delicately and with great insight. Even if I had trouble connecting to the people within, his portrayal of scenery and situation is wonderful. In particular, pay attention to his description of anatomy and expression – this is an author whose observation skills are top-notch.

Overall, I left The Girl with Glass Feet feeling both inspired and bemused. I knew that I liked the work, but wasn’t exactly sure what I liked about it. I suppose that both the freedom and the captive nature of love tries to weave its way into the message of plotline, but it doesn’t focus prominently in my mind as a central theme. Character development, at least for me, is the winning formula here. Despite being a little frustrated with the deliberate distance of the characters and the often inscrutable nature of their decisions, the last notes of this work made me genuinely sad, but hopeful. This is important – I dislike stories that close on the impression that the central character has not really moved from the person he was on the first page.

I know that Ali Shaw has published again since The Girl with Glass Feet, and I will be following up on his most recent work. I was suitably impressed to read that he is only in his twenties, which changed my attitude to the book minutely. For a much older, more experienced (and perhaps jaded) author, this work would sing of a beautiful imagination which sometimes lacks focus. But for a first published novel, this is fantastic. I absolutely want to get inside Shaw’s head, because this author can only improve with age – his novels will be something to keep up with.

If this review hasn’t yet convinced you, read this book for the flying miniature cows. I’m not going to explain that, and neither does the author. But you will continue to think about it at odd moments weeks later.