Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Footprints in the Snow: A Review of The Girl with Glass Feet

I picked up Ali Shaw's 2009 novel The Girl with Glass Feet because of the cover.  It was subtle, with snowflakes gently falling on withered flowers, against a light blue, sepia-toned background.
That version of the cover is no longer available, but the one that is (pictured below), conveys this same sense of elegance, melancholy, and subtlety.

And in both cases, the cover perfectly captures the essence of the novel--a fantastic tale filled with death, love, and footprints in the snow.

The Girl with Glass Feet tells the story of Midas Crook, a photographer, and Ida Maclaird, a girl he meets one snowy afternoon while he is out chasing the perfect light in the woods.  As both covers and Midas's occupation suggest, light is tremendously important in the novel, primarily because of the way Shaw uses it to establish a sense of mood throughout the narrative. 

And light, and things that reflect and refract and capture it, are also what bring everyone together throughout The Girl with Glass Feet, making for a story that is delicate and ephemeral, yet profound and lingering.  Ida's feet are slowly turning to glass, and Midas is desperate to capture her image perfectly on film.  This fascination with light extends to the supporting cast as well--water plays an important role in the lives of several characters, as does a creature who is rumored to turn everything around it white.

Light pervades the setting of the novel as well, particularly in its fascination with objects that are black and white.  Midas takes black and white photography, the novel is primarily set in winter, and Ida's complexion is frequently described as monochromatic.  Shaw does this in a way that is very clear without being overwhelming.  He slips sentences such as these into the narrative, briefly touching on the importance of light before once again moving away to the lives and passions of his characters: "In her garden a white cat sprinted across the lawn, leaving dimpled footprints in the snow."  On its own, the importance of light, whiteness, and snow seems obvious, but in context--in the midst of a fraught conversation between Midas and his estranged mother--it's a brief glimpse at a larger meaning that gets filed away in the back of your mind.

In short, I loved this novel.  It's not a story or a message that can be easily grasped and held onto--like light, it's always moving, always changing.  It's the perfect novel to read as the year dies, while you're looking out onto the cold whiteness of the snow.

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