The Girl with Glass Feet: A Novelby Ali Shaw
An inventive and richly visual novel about young lovers on a quest to find a cure for a magical ailment, perfect for readers of Alice Hoffman
Strange things are happening on the remote and snowbound archipelago of St. Hauda's Land. Unusual winged creatures flit around the icy bogland, albino animals hide themselves in the snow-glazed woods, and Ida/p>/b>
An inventive and richly visual novel about young lovers on a quest to find a cure for a magical ailment, perfect for readers of Alice Hoffman
Strange things are happening on the remote and snowbound archipelago of St. Hauda's Land. Unusual winged creatures flit around the icy bogland, albino animals hide themselves in the snow-glazed woods, and Ida Maclaird is slowly turning into glass. Ida is an outsider in these parts, a mainlander who has visited the islands only once before. Yet during that one fateful visit the glass transformation began to take hold, and now she has returned in search of a cure.
Midas Crook is a young loner who has lived on the islands his entire life. When he meets Ida, something about her sad, defiant spirit pierces his emotional defenses. As Midas helps Ida come to terms with her affliction, she gradually unpicks the knots of his heart. Love must be paid in precious hours and, as the glass encroaches, time is slipping away fast. Will they find a way to stave off the spread of the glass?
The Girl with Glass Feet is a dazzlingly imaginative and magical first novel, a love story to treasure.
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The Girl with Glass Feet
By Ali Shaw
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2009 Ali Shaw
All rights reserved.
That winter there were reports in the newspaper of an iceberg the shape of a galleon floating in creaking majesty past St. Hauda's Land's cliffs, of a snuffling hog leading lost hill walkers out of the crags beneath Lomdendol Tor, of a dumb-founded ornithologist counting five albino crows in a flock of two hundred. But Midas Crook did not read the newspaper; he only looked at the photographs.
That winter Midas had seen photos everywhere. They haunted the woods and lurked at the ends of deserted streets. They were of such multitude that while lining up a shot at one, a second would cross his aim and, tracking that, he'd catch a third in his sights.
One day in mid-December he chased the photos to a part of the woods near Ettinsford. It was a darkening afternoon whose final shafts of light passed between trees, swung across the earth like searchlights. He left the path to follow such a beam. Twigs crunched beneath his shoes. A bleating bird skipped away over leaves. Branches swayed and clacked against each other overhead, snipping through the roving beam. He kept up his close pursuit, treading through its trail of shadows.
His father had once told him a legend: lone travelers on overgrown paths would glimpse a humanoid glow that ghosted between trees or swam in a still lake. And something, some impulse from the guts, would make the traveler lurch off the path in pursuit, into the mazy trees or deep water. When they pinned it down it would take shape. Sometimes it would form a flower of phosphorescent petals. Sometimes it drew a bird of sparks whose tail feathers fizzed embers. Sometimes it became like a person and they'd think they saw, under a nimbus like a veil, the features of a loved one long lost. Always the light grew steadily brighter until — in a flash — they'd be blinded. Midas's father hadn't needed to elaborate on what happened to them after that. Lost and alone in the cold of the woods.
It was nonsense, of course, like everything his father had said. But light was magic, making the dull earth vivid. A shaft of it hung against a tree trunk, bleaching the cracked bark yellow. Enticed, Midas crept towards it and captured it on camera before it sank back into the loam. A quick glance at his display screen promised a fine picture, but he was greedy for more. Another shaft lit briars and holly ahead. It made the berries sharply red, the leaves poisonously green. He shot it, and harried another that drifted ahead through the undergrowth. It gathered pace while Midas tripped on roots and snagged his ankles on strands of thorns. He chased it all the way to the fringe of the wood, and followed it into the open, where the scrubland sloped down and away from him towards a river. Crows wheeled in a sky of oily rags. Hidden water gurgled nearby, welling into a dark pool at the bottom of the slope. Above the pool, the ray of light dangled like a golden ribbon. He charged down the slope to catch it, feet skidding on mushy soil and sharp air driving into his lungs as he stumbled the last distance down to the banks. A sheet of lacy ice covered the water and prevented reflections, so all he could see in the pool was darkness. The ray had vanished. The clouds had coalesced too fast. He was panting, hanging his head and resting with hands on knees. His breath hung in the air.
"Are you okay?"
He spun around and felt his foot skid on a clot of soil. He fell forward and stumbled up again with filthy hands and cold muddy patches on his knees. A girl sat neatly on a flat rock. Somehow he'd not seen her. She looked like she'd stepped through the screen of a 1950s movie. Her skin and blond hair were such pale shades they looked monochrome. Her long coat was tied at the waist by a fabric belt. She was probably a few years younger than him, in her early twenties, wearing a white hat with matching gloves.
"Sorry," she said, "if I surprised you."
Her irises were titanium gray, her most striking feature. Her lips were an afterthought and her cheekbones flat. But her eyes ... He realized he was staring into them and quickly looked away.
He turned to the pond in hope of the light. On the other side of the water was a field marked out by a stringy barbed-wire fence. A shaggy gray ram stood there, horns like ammonites, staring into space. Past that the woods began again, with no sign of a farm house attached to the ram's field. Nor was there any sign of the light.
"Are you sure you're okay? Have you lost something?"
He turned back to her, wondering if she might have seen it. It was on the rock beside her, beamed through a hole in the clouds.
"Shh!" He spent half a second aiming, then took the shot.
"What are you doing?"
He scrutinized the image on the camera's screen. A fine photo, all told. The girl's half of the stone steeped in a tree's forked shadow, the other half turned to a hunk of glowing amber. But wait ... On closer examination he had made a mess of the composition, cropping the ends of her boots. He bent closer to the screen. No wonder he had made the mistake, for the girl's feet sat neatly together in a pair of large boots many sizes too big for her. They were covered in laces and buckles like straightjackets. A walking stick lay across her lap.
"I'm still here, you know."
He looked up, startled.
"And I asked you what you were doing."
"Are you a photographer?"
"You're a professional?"
"You're an unemployed photographer?"
He waved his hands in vague directions. This complicated question often worried him. What other people could not realize was that photography wasn't a job, a hobby or an obsession, it was simply as fundamental to his interpretation of the world as the effect of light diving in his retinas.
"I cope," he mumbled, "with photography."
She raised an eyebrow. "It's rude to photograph people without their consent. Not everyone enjoys the experience."
The ram grunted in its field.
She carried on. "Anyway, may I see it? The photograph you took of me."
Midas timidly held out the camera, tilting it slightly towards her.
"Actually," he explained, "um, it's not a photo of you. If it were I'd have framed it differently. I wouldn't have cropped the tip of your, erm, boot. And I'd have asked permission."
"Then what's it a photograph of?"
He shrugged. "You could say it was the light."
"Can I take a closer look?"
Before he'd had a chance to figure out how to word a sentence to say no, not really, not quite, he wasn't that comfortable with other people handling his camera, she reached up and took it. The carry strap, still slung around his neck, forced him to step unbearably close to her. He winced and waited, leaning backwards uncomfortably, to keep as much of himself as far as he could from her. His eyes drifted back to her boots. They weren't just big. They were enormous on a girl so thin. They reached almost up to her knees.
"God, I look awful. So shadowy." She sighed and let the camera go. Midas straightened up and took a relieved step backwards, still staring at her boots.
"They were my dad's. He was a policeman. They're made for plodding."
"Oh. Ah ..."
"Here." She opened her handbag and took out her wallet, finding inside a dog-eared piece of photograph showing her in denim shorts, yellow T-shirt and sunglasses. She stood on a beach Midas recognized.
"That's Shalhem Bay," he said, "near Gurmton."
"Last summer. The last time I came to St. Hauda's Land."
She offered him the photo to take a closer look. In it, her skin was tanned and her hair a roasted blond. She wore a pair of flip-flops on small, untoward feet.
A snort behind him made Midas jump. The ram had made a steamy halo for his horned head.
"You're quite a jumpy guy. Are you sure you're all right? What's your name?"
"Not so unusual if it's your own name, I suppose. Mine's Ida."
She smiled, showing slightly yellowed teeth. He didn't know why that should surprise him. Perhaps because the rest of her was so gray.
"Ida," he said.
"Yes." She gestured to the speckled surface of the rock. "Do you want to sit down?"
He sat a few feet away from her.
"Is it just me," she asked, "or is this an ugly winter?"
The clouds were now as thick and drab as concrete. The ram rubbed a hind leg against the fence, tearing his gray wool on the barbed wire.
"I don't know," Midas said.
"There've been so few of those crisp days when the sky's that brilliant blue. Outdoor days I like. And the dead leaves aren't coppery, they're gray."
He examined the mush of leaves at their feet. She was right. "Pleasing," he said.
She laughed. She had a watery cackle he wasn't sure he enjoyed.
"But you," he said, "are wearing gray." And she looked good. He'd like to photograph her among monochrome pines. She'd wear a black dress and white make up. He'd use color film and capture the muted flush in her cheeks.
"I used to dress in bright colors," she said, "saffrons and scarlets. Jesus, I used to have a tan."
He screwed up his face.
"Well, you were always bound to enjoy black-and-white winters. You're a photographer." She reached over and shoved him playfully in a way that stunned him and would have made him shriek if he weren't so surprised. "Like the wolf man."
"Seeing in black and white like a dog. As for me, I like colorful winters. I really want them to return. They were never this dreary before."
She kept her feet still as she sat, not shuffling them about and poking at the ground as he had the habit of doing.
"So what do you do? If you're not a professional photographer?"
He remembered from nowhere what his father had said about never talking to strangers. He cleared his throat. "I work for my friend. At a florist's. It's called Catherine's."
"I get paper cuts. From the bouquet paper."
"A florist must be a nightmare for a black-and-white photographer."
The ram hoofed at slushy dirt.
Midas gulped. These had been more words than he had spoken in some weeks. His tongue was getting dry. "What about you?"
"Me? I suppose you could say I'm unemployable."
"Um ... Are you ill?"
She shrugged. A fleck of rain hit the rock. She smoothed her hat further onto her head. Another raindrop fell on the leather of one boot, making a reflective spot above the toes.
She sighed. "I don't know."
More rain fell icy on their cheeks and foreheads.
Ida looked up at the sky. "I'd best head back." She picked up her walking stick and carefully pushed herself to her feet.
Midas looked back up the slope he'd charged down. "Where's ... back?"
She gestured with her walking stick. Away down a winding riverbank path. "A little cottage that belongs to a friend."
"Ah. I suppose I'd best be going, too."
"Nice to meet you."
"And you. Get ... Get well soon."
She waved gingerly, then turned around and moved away along the path. She walked at a snail's pace, cautiously placing her stick before each step, like she was rediscovering walking after a bedridden spell. Midas felt a tug inside him as she left. He wanted to take a picture, photograph her this time, not the light. He hesitated, then shot her from behind, her shuffling figure backdropped by the water and the ram's gray field.CHAPTER 2
She'd developed a par tic u lar way of walking to accommodate her condition. Step, pause, step instead of step, step, step. You needed that moment's pause to make sure you'd set your foot straight. Like the opening gambits of a dance. Her boots were thick and padded, but one accidental fall or careless stumble could do irreparable damage that would finish her off for good, she supposed. That would be that.
And what was it like, walking on bone and muscle, on heels and soles? She couldn't remember. Now walking felt like levitation, always an inch off the ground.
The river kept quiet, here pattering down a short cascade, there brushing over a weed-covered rock that looked like a head of green hair. Ida kept hobbling, occasional raindrops dissolving into her coat and making the wool of her hat wet. That was another problem with this bloody stupid way of getting about: you couldn't move fast enough to keep warm. She pulled her scarf over her chin and ice-cold nose.
Thickets of holly dipped their branches in the river. A moth landed on a cluster of bright berries. She stopped walking as it fanned its wings. They were furred brown and speckled with lush greens.
"Hi," she said to the moth.
It flew away.
She walked on.
She wanted the moth back. Sometimes when she closed her eyes she saw more color than she could in a whole day on St. Hauda's Land with them open.
She'd always liked to be in places where tightly packed hips, shoulders and backsides danced against yours, a dazzle of colors whirling on dresses and shirts. She'd held off sleep using the sheer pleasure of company, be it huddled in a freezing tent wearing a thick jumper or trading stories over card games in friends' flats until morning came. There was none of that to be had on these islands.
She had with her the tatty St. Hauda's Land guidebook she had bought on her trip to the archipelago in the summer. When she had opened it that winter, for the first time since that trip, grains of white sand fell from its spine.
She'd had more enthusiasm for the place in summertime. She had read, with pity for the islanders, about the lurching industrial fishing boats that trawled from the mainland to intrude in the archipelago's waters, scooping whole pods of speared whales from the water and turning them to blubber and red slop on their slaughter house decks. She had read of local whalers who sailed farther and farther out to sea in little boats their fathers and grandfathers had fished in. Some had not returned, either when storms blew up or generations-old vessels failed them. She read how, when they returned with dismal catches, the market was already saturated by the meat from the mainland. Whaling families began to move away, taking their youngsters with them. Ida's guidebook tried to draw a line under this, but sounded delirious instead. Tourists would never be attracted, as the authors hoped, by the drab architecture of Glamsgallow's seafront. Nor by the plain rock walls of Ettinsford's church. Nor by the fishery guildhall at Gurmton, whose painted ceiling of seamen and sea creatures, all depicted with underwhelming skill in the muted colors of the ocean, was compared hopelessly optimistically to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
It was wrong to count on the landscape, although it could be impressive at times. Other island destinations had more dramatic coastlines than St. Hauda's Land, which showcased more than anything the insidious sea. Ida had wondered when the guidebook's map was sketched, for entire beaches shown on the map were these days buried under the weight of water. An impressive natural rock tower called Grem Forst (locally known as the Giant's Lamp house) was described in flowery prose as a star attraction. The lumberjack sea had been at work, cutting away at the rock with its adze of waves. Unwitnessed one evening, the Lamp house toppled. It broke into a string of boulders peeking meek faces out of the tide.
Inland, the archipelago had only foul-smelling bogs and haggard woodland to attract holidaymakers. Ida doubted the islands could survive the peddling of this kind of tourism. If anything, the guidebook should trumpet the one thing it was careful to avoid.
Loneliness. You couldn't buy company on St. Hauda's Land.
He'd been an odd one, that boy with the camera. Such a distinctive physique: pale skin so taut on his skeleton, holding himself with a shy hunch, not ugly as such but certainly not handsome, with a demeanor eager to cause no trouble, to attract no attention.
Made sense. She reckoned photographers wanted you to behave as normal, as if they and their cameras weren't there.
She liked him.
She hesitated (taking her next careful step along the river path). There were more pressing things than one skewed island man. Like finding Henry Fuwa, her first skewed island man.
Excerpted from The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw. Copyright © 2009 Ali Shaw. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Ali Shaw graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English literature and has since worked as a bookseller and at Oxford's Bodleian Library. The Girl with Glass Feet is his first novel.
Ali Shaw graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English literature and has since worked as a bookseller and at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. The Girl with Glass Feet is his first novel.
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The description made me think that it was some sort of magical voyage between two people finding a way to each other with Ida's unusual condition as the catalyst. Instead it is a very strange and dark love story between Ida and Midas and the people in their lives. Usually these types of book I find hard to get lost within the pages. That was not the case in this story. It was captivating from the first chapter. In the story, many of the characters surrounding the couple who often also have a chapter with their own POV, are looking for some sort of redemption for a wrong turn they took in their lives. It was not that way with Ida and Midas. They were finding a way to wake themselves up to the world and those close around them. To have the courage to make their own mistakes. Although the characters were slow to wake up to taking chances with each other, it was still interesting to see how both characters change toward one another. It was frustrating especially because time was not on their side with Ida's condition getting worse. I did see Ida's condition as a metaphor for a terminal illness. If you consider it, what better metaphor than glass? It is something that alters her body, makes it non-functional and when people see the "glass" it is as if they look right through you. I did have a hard time deciding if I would give this book 3 1/2 stars or if I would give it a full 4 stars. My main objection is my own and had nothing to do with the writing itself. And by throwing out my personal preference, I'd have to say it was too well written for me to take it down slightly. Therefore, I give it 4 stars and recommend this book for people who want a dark, strange and lyrical type of romance story.
There is a street musician in New York City, who plays a hand saw with a violin bow. That music, to me, is the audio equivalent of this book: haunting and eerie. There's a sense of otherworldliness, and yet a strange sort of beauty exists as well. Not the sort of book I immediately reach for, but an enjoyable read once I settled in.
I honestly do not know where to start. How do I explain a book like this, how can I get you all to see the magic in it? It is a strange tale about a girl, Ida who returns to St Hauda's Land in search for answers. Her feet are turning into glass, yes glass. She does not know why but she remembers a man who had mentioned glass bodies in the bog. Could he hold the answer? Here she meets Midas, a strange young man who loves to take photos, and they fall in love, slowly, awkward, but in love. Perhaps you now see the strangeness in this book. Her body is slowly being transformed into glass, and when it finishes, well no one can live in a body of glass. These islands are a strange place. There is talk about a strange animal with white eyes, and this whole place seems to ooze strangeness. Like it is some kind of distant land far far away where these strange things can still exist, hidden away from the rest of the world. And the people here have grown used to them. Used to finding strange things like moth-winged cows. It was a great story, hauntingly beautiful and sad. I felt like I was there, on this damp, cold island. The language took hold of this feeling and made me stay. It is not a happy story, there is coldness creeping in the edges of this book and there are a lot of unhappy people in it. Still it felt magical. The story is not just a story, it jumps in time. We get to see Midas' dad, who wasn't a nice man, and who shaped who Midas is now. We also get to see Ida's past, and she hadn't a nice dad either. Their mothers seemed frail. And then there is the longing, both had mothers who others longed for. Lost passions, with more sad flashbacks. To understand the now, you have to understand the past. I shall not forget the lovestory. Midas meets Ida, they see something in each other. The slowly move towards each other, and they seem so perfect for each other. But the clock is ticking, not only to find a cure, but for them to finally do something. I liked Ida, I would not have been as brave as she was, to see my feet turn to glass would surely have driven me insane. And I had to love Midas, he was strange, but so lovable. I could picture him before me. This is Shaw's first novel, and if he continues in this style then I am sure we will hear much more about him. If I sum it up, it is like a strange fairytale, the girl with glass feet, and the awkward prince she meets.
Magical Realism at it's best. Wonderful. If you like Alice Hoffman, you'll like this.
for one i felt like all of this thoughts clashed...ideas that made no sense to the story like the moth wing bulls and the animal that turned objects to white and henry?? I thought they would of tied in somewhere or maybe help the cure? These parts shouldnt of been in the book..most writters have a flow to their stories and i didnt see a good.comsistant until the middle of the book. The ending was the worst, of course he had to give up your hopes for the poor girl..it was an all around stupid book..im glad i only purchased mine for a dollar..sorry but what a joke Good things to say well he had and intresting way of describing things, like i said the middle was good.
The Girl With The Glass Feet is a beautifully-written tale reminiscent of the darker Grimms Bros. fairy tales. I was transported to a vivid setting, with colors, textures, life and death woven together, painting magical images that linger in my mind. There are questions that are never answered, but I am left with an array of mental photographs to consider, and I enjoy the mental stimulation. If you are the type of person who likes everything tied up with a neat little bow and who doesn't appreciate magical realism, you may want to skip it.
A beautifully written story about a strange and magical place, complete with unusual characters.... It kept my interest. I couldn't put it down.
Extremely interesting and different, easy to get lost in idas and midas' story, did not end how I expected but a great read and I would recommend it to anyone.
I highly, highly recommend this book. It was beautifully written, with great characters and a setting that transports the reader. You won't be able to put it down. It is a wonderful and unique love story which is a bit like a fairy tale but without being totally out there in fantasy land. It was seriously great.
a wonderfully inventive fairy tale, i couldn't put it down
Ida Maclaird seeks a cure to stop her slow debilitating ailment; she is turning into glass starting with her feet, but slowly spreading up her body. The young woman feels she caught her illness on the St. Hauda's Land archipelago; so has returned to these remote northern islands seeking the cure before it is too late. Before he met Ida , Midas Crook had no plans to ever marry, but he falls in love. He joins her quest to find the cure to her plight. They turn to biologist Henry Fuwa, who prefers saving the endangered insect like moth-winged bull rather than a human, but also offers hope as he insist he can help her followed up with despair saying she will turn totally to glass. Carl Mausen, a friend to Ida's family, wants to help her as if she is his daughter and offers her his cottage as a temporary home, but his fidelity is to her mother who he loved and lost. Finally Emiliana Stallows is rumored to have cured a previous girl with glass feet. This is an interesting parable fantasy that focuses on the fleeting fragile nature of relationships that can easily shatter as each person has major issues relating to others. The glum tone permeates the story line as relationships that were once warm turn icy leaving the audience to wonder if Ida and Midas are doomed even if she is cured. Although too many back stories re secondary characters are included even as their tales add to the atmosphere of pending gloom, fans will enjoy touring the islands of despair as Ida and Midas cling to love as their hope deteriorates along with her condition. Harriet Klausner
awesome. weird. unexpected. don't look for a happy ending here.