2009 Fantasy Other Prizes

The Girl with Glass Feet – Ali Shaw

 Short Listed for Costa First Novel Award 2009

The Girl with Glass Feet was Simon’s choice for Not the TV Book Group (an online book group formed recentlyby several UK book bloggers).

The book is set on a strange island, packed with weird animals; the plot centring on a woman called Ida, who discovers that she is slowly turning to glass.

The only word I can use to describe this book is bizarre! I’m afraid that I didn’t really understand the point of this book and the implausibility just seemed to grate on me rather than entertain.

Ida’s toes have turned to glass and she notices that the glass is spreading up her feet, but we have no explanation as to why this is occurring. There is no wicked witch to hate, or cursed place to avoid – it has just happened and Ida seems to accept it. She has a relationship with a man called Midas, but their relationship lacked emotion and I found that I didn’t really care what happened to them. I felt distanced from all the characters, never really understanding what motivated them to do anything.

The book also contained ‘bull moths’ – tiny cows with wings. Why?!! I just didn’t understand. Cows are ugly, muddy things and miniaturising them doesn’t make them cute. I can’t imagine one flying and couldn’t understand why they were present in the book.

Overall I found this to be a very frustrating book. Little was explained or tied up nicely at the end – it was just one bizarre event after another. I prefer stories based in reality, or at least with enough detail to immerse yourself in the strange new world. 

Lots of other people enjoyed it though, so head over to Simon’s blog to read the fantastic discussion in the comments section.

Did you enjoy The Girl with Glass Feet?

Can you accept bizarre occurrences in books, or do you need a plausible explanation?

42 replies on “The Girl with Glass Feet – Ali Shaw”

I guess we are just supposed to “go with it”? I suppose on a lark I might, but I think I would prefer to know the origin of the problem! Perhaps it is a case of left brain/right brain. I am an accountant by trade, so I like my glass toes to come with some sort of explanation. I’ll be interested to see what Simon says.

Sandy, I’m a scientist originally, so like things to be based in fact too! I enjoy some fairy tale plots, but don’t like things to happen for no reason. This book just had too many lose ends for me.

I think I’m probably more okay with bizarre things happening out of left field. I like fantasy and it never really seems to bug me! I do want to read this one but I’m hoping the library will have it. I don’t plan to buy it.

As you know I adored this book. I went with the flow and let it entrance me and didn’t question things too much while I read it. For me it was one of my favourite reads of 2009.

I met the author and he talked a lot about magic and how you use it in novels – citing Hans Christian Andersen and the Little Mermaid – she has to pay a terrible price to get its benefit, and on reflection I saw a lot of this in the book. Shaw also worked with medieval bestiaries at the Bodleian, and I think this may have influenced the creation of the moth-winged cattle, which are another product of this magical environment, which finds ways to keep people there…

There were some terribly good insights in the discussions yesterday, which have made me want to re-read it as soon as I can, plus some HCAndersen.

Annabel, I’d love to hear the author talk about this book. I don’t think it would make me enjoy the book any more, but I’d love to hear his explanations of why some of the elements of this book were there. I can understand why some people love this book, but I’m afraid I enjoy reading about realistic people more than imagined ones.

This is the first negative review of this book that I’ve seen. Sorry it didn’t work because it sounds like it’s got so much potential! I don’t own it yet, maybe I’ll get it from the library instead…

Amanda, Most people seem to love it, so don’t take my word for it. Getting it from the library sounds like a great idea – I look forward to seeing what you make of it.

I don’t always need a plausible plot but this does sound odd! A little like something Kafka would write – it sounds like his Metamorphosis which was a frustrating read. However, I love fairy tales and a bit of magic so I might give this a go!

Bloomsbury Bell, I haven’t read Metamorphosis, so I’m afraid I can’t compare the two. I don’t mind a bit of magic in my books, but I think I was frustrated by the lack of explanation and the way many things were not tied up. If you love fairy tales then give it a go – you’ll probably enjoy it much more than I did.

So, I take it you’re not a fan of magical realism then? 😉 I personally love when things out of left field take place in a book! I find that weird things can make really powerful, striking images, and I love a twist of the bizarre in things that I read. For me, the most important thing is that the emotions and actions feel grounded in reality, that they are believable, but I don’t require my fiction to exist in a world that’s a perfect mirror to our own!

Steph, I think my problem was the emotions weren’t realistic. Ida said she was scared about turning to glass, but she didn’t act it. She didn’t take any drastic actions – I’d go straight to the doctors or if there weren’t any I’d amputate my own leg. Weird things can happen in books, but the characters should react appropriately to them. Other people just seem to enjoy the ride, but I think things though and this book just didn’t add up.

Hah, this reminds me of you getting annoyed at the talking bears in Tender Morsels!

Not sure yet if I’ll end up reading this. I might if it falls into my lap, but so far I’m not convinced. Don’t usually have trouble with magical realism, but I do have trouble with things that try too hard to be precious. That’s the impression I get from your review, anyway!

Lija, These things were far more annoying than the talking bears in Tender Morsels! I’m not sure I’d describe the book as precious – perhaps you should find out for yourself!

Harvee, Thank you for the award!

I’m sure there is a lot of symbolism in this book, but I’m afraid I don’t care enough about the book to want to do deeper research into it. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments on Simon’s blog, which give a few theories, but it is all guess work, so I’m still none the wiser!

I picked this up at the library recently mainly because I loved the cover, and I loved the sound of it and I loved that the edges of the pages are in silver to look like glass… fact I loved everything about it!
I haven’t got round to reading it yet but it’s been fascinating reading lots of different reviews of it, and I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy it but everyone’s tastes are different aren’t they.
I love fantasy novels….flying cows?!! They sound great, bring ’em on……lol!!

Carole, I forgot to mention the cover – it is beautiful! I love the silver page edges too.

If you like the sound of flying cows then I’m sure you’ll love this book – enjoy!

The cover is beautiful, but the story sounds rather weird. I love magical realism when its done right and from what you wrote, it doesn’t sound like this book was done right. I’ve read some really effusive posts about this book and they didn’t really mention the flying miniature cows or the fact that the glass feet aren’t really explained, so thanks for the heads up. I’m not really sure now if I’ll be adding this book to my TBR list – I was going to, but I might have to rethink it. Cheers!

Nadia, I am in the minority in not loving this book, so it might be worth keeping this book on your list, or perhaps checking it out of the library to see what it is like. It is always nice to see a balance of reviews, so I’m pleased that I can provide it for you in this case.

Jeanne, Fussy aren’t we!? I’ll be interested to see what other people make of this book, as I’m sure lots will be tempted in the future. I wonder how many will be put off by the lack of explanations.

I completely agree with you on this one Jackie. I can be honest with myself and say that I am not always a huge fan of magical realism but I don’t think this was really the main barrier for me with this book. I could certainly appreciate the beauty of some of the writing but for me the plot and the characters had no substance to hold them together.

Karen, It is good to know I’m not alone. I sometimes love magical realism, but it has to be very well done. I thought this fell flat on several points. You need a big imagination and a lot of tolerance for the impossible to read this one.

I don’t really care for weird just for the sake of being weird … or it has to be really well done or super creative. And does everything Midas touch turn to gold? Odd choice of name.

Jenners, It is an odd choice of name. Nothing he touched turned to gold, but perhaps the reverse was true and everything he touched turned bad? I don’t know why he was called that – perhaps it is just all going over my head?

I started Ali Shaw’s other book – The Accidental – and found it bewildering. Sounds like this is more of the same. I like to try experimental-ish fiction, but Ali Shaw has defeated me in the past.

Jenny, I thought it was funny that you mixed him up with Ali Smith, as I do see similarities between the two authors. Both seem to enjoy experimental writing and I didn’t enjoy either book.

Thanks to Annabel for pointing out they are different!

I normally prefer realism to magic but, as the length of my contribution over on Simon’s blog might suggest, I liked Ali Shaw’s book a lot. By contrast, I didn’t get on with Ali Smith’s The Accidental at all! I may normally avoid the weird, but it appears I have such a soft spot for stories featuring insecure men and implausible romance, that they can even draw me towards novels featuring mythical creatures and crystallising people.

:/ I requested this from the library after reading a rave review of it. I’m happy to hear a bit of a different review though. I hope it’s not too out there for me.

I liked this book, but didn’t love it. I agree with you on the loose ends problem – the moth-winged cattle and that creature turning everything white, for example, were interesting, but what was their POINT eventually???

The book was just scratching the weirdness of the place here and there, instead of really diving in, and I think the result is a bit lame.

I wasn’t missing an explanation for the events though – I just took it like “St Hauda’s Land is a strange place, where strange things happen, and that’s it.” 🙂 I just wish that those strange things (other than Ida’s condition) would have had some true meaning in the story!

Satu, I forgot to mention the creature that turned everything white – I agree with you – why??!!

There were just too many weird things that I didn’t see the point of. It is OK to leave people to fill in some gaps, but there are so many here that it is impossible for 2 people to come to the same conclusion. Everything is left wide open and so any symbolism that could have been present is lost in a pile of random thoughts.

I’m looking forward to reading this book just to see where I fall in the love/hate continuum. I generally can suspend my disbelief as long as the writing is good enough or the story charming and original enough. We’ll see!

This sounds like a book that had an interesting premise but just didn’t deliver! I’d have to say I will probably skip it based on the reviews I have read so far.

Hummmm. I love fantasy, but I like to have a world that is internally logical. I could accept flying cows — I read books with talking animals and trees. I may give this one a shot, but not any time soon.

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