Monday, May 10, 2010

The Girl with the Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

Posted by Simcha 5:36 AM, under | 8 comments

In the late Middle Ages several cases were recorded of
people who were convinced that they were made out of glass. One such person was King Charles IV of France who wouldn’t allow people to touch him and who wore special padded clothing to prevent his body from shattering. This syndrome, known as Glass Delusion, inspired Ali Shaw’s novel of a young woman whose body is slowly transforming into glass.

A mysterious metamorphosis has taken hold of Ida MacLaird- she is slowly turning into glass. Fragile and determined to find a cure, she returns to the strange, enchanted island where she believes the transformation began, in search of reclusive Henry Fuwa, the one man who might just be able to help. Instead she meets Midas Crook, and another transformation begins; as Midas helps Ida come to terms with her condition, they fall in love. What they need most is more time- and time is slipping away fast.

The Girl with Glass Feet is a beautifully written novel with a fairy tale-like atmosphere that is both whimsical and melancholic. While many readers are probably drawn to the book because of its unique premises of a girl turning into glass, the story actually focuses more on the themes of relationships and love than on Ida’s strange condition. And for this reason, despite my enjoyment of the book I found myself unsatisfied with the story, once I finished it.

I think that some of my dissatisfaction with The Girl with Glass Feet has to do with the fact that I generally read fantasy and was therefore attracted to the magical elements of this book, which were largely downplayed. While we discover that Ida’s condition has likely been caused by a creature whose gaze turns people into glass, the book does not go any further in investigating this creature, which I thought was odd. If the source of Ida’s ailment was of so little import that it did not bare examination, why was it included at all? There is also no explanation for why different people are affected in different ways by this creature, which niggled at me as well. I felt like throughout the story I was being given pieces to a puzzle only to discover at the end that there was no puzzle at all. In fact, Ida’s glass feet seemed to have very little consequence on the plot and could have been replaced by any other disease, with the same results.

There were also some other magical elements in the book for which there didn’t seem to be a purpose, and there were characters behaving in ways for which no satisfactory motive is given. I was also pretty disappointed in how predictably the events of the story played out, veering very little off the foreseeable path.

Perhaps if this had just been a story about relationships and the consequences of love then I would have been much more pleased with this book. The characters are all well-drawn and believable and the narrative is both poetic and real, vividly conjuring up the images in my mind so that I clearly see every detail in each scene.

Midas was washing up with his eyes closed. Often it was best to do it this way, cleaning the knives and the coffee cups by touch. He found it strange that among any number of unpleasant impressions of his father, the most vivid was of the man washing up. That was why he washed up blind, because his own arms dipping into the dishwater, the trails of bubbles on his skin, the purple the water turned his fingers, the involuntary mannerism he used to pull a plate from the bowl and hold it up to drain, all dug the memory up.
Dishwater was a crystal ball on his childhood.

Each of the characters is caught up in an inner struggle in which they yearn for a love that they can not receive. Midas has difficulty getting physically and emotionally close to others, because of his bitter relationship with his own father, and only Ida's appearance opens him up for the first time. Carl is obsessed with Ida's mother, whom he had loved and lost, and now thinks that Ida may be his answer. Midas's mother has suffered for years in a loveless marriage and is now only a shadow of her former self, unable to respond to those she once loved. And Ida, who realizes she no longer has time to search for love, will forcibly grab it for herself where she can find it, despite the obstacles the seem to be in her way.

She thought of Midas's lips coming closer then jerking away. She thought, suddenly of what she had invested in him. If soon she was immobile, half girl half ornament, then soon there could be no sex, perhaps no passion. She panicked that she had unwittingly picked him to be the last romance of her life, and that he would be too slow to trust her. She wanted to know him better and understand him, yes, but sleeping alone here in a strange bed, she wanted a warm body at her side and some recognition that she was alive. Could he give her that?

The Girl with the Glass Feet is a good book that most readers will probably enjoy due to the beautiful prose and wonderful storytelling, though I would have been a lot more pleased with this book if it had dealt with the magical elements that it introduced in a more satisfactory manner.


Oh, it's a shame that the magic wasn't dealt with properly because it sounds like a beautiful book. I might have to read it anyway, just for the whimsical writing style.

I really enjoyed this book! I completely see what disappointed you about it, but I think I found the language so lovely that I didn't mind so much!

Too bad you weren't satisfied with this book. I'm still haunted by it, actually and it's been months since I finished it. St. Hauda's magical eccentricities are unforgettable.

Thanks for including that bit of trivia!

Anna: Since not too many other readers seemed as bothered as I was with this issue, I would say you should still go ahead and give this book a try.

Aarti: Yes, the writing was really beautiful and after reading many other reviews of this book I see that very few other people had the issues I did. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I read a lot of fantasy and so was more focused on that aspect of the book than people who don't.

Stephanie: I actually got the book because of your review of it, and I am glad that I read it. But it just really bothered me that when searching for a cure no one even attempted to track down the creature that was supposed to have caused the condition, in which case, why was it even mentioned? And what was the point of the mini bovine? I just felt like these were all supposed to be clues leading up to a "big reveal" that never came and that really bothered me.
I came across the trivia accidentally while I was looking up information about the author and I thought it was interesting. I'd never heard of this before.

I've never heard of this condition before. People thinking they're turning into glass. I find it fascinating and will have to look this up.

I find it odd, that the root of the condition is not explored. I find books that evade things like that. It almost makes the end of the book feel empty.

It does sound like an interesting read. I'll be adding it to my TBR list. Great review!

Beth: The author mentioned in an interview that he didn't want to get into the details too much because that would turn it into a scifi novel, but if this was the case then some of those components should have been left out completely if they were not going to be explored. I'm curious though why no one else seems bothered by this and so I would be really interested in hearing your opinion if you do read the book.

Nice review Simcha -
If only we could read perfect books all the time. :)

I am looking forward to reading this at some point.

Shellie, Well, if every book were perfect than writing reviews wouldn't be as much fun :) Though I don't even know what a perfect book would be. And if you do read this book I would very interested in hearing your thoughts on it.

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