The Girl With Glass Feet

The Girl With Glass Feet
by Ali Shaw, 2009
reviewed by Erzebet YellowBoy

St. Hauda’s Land is a remote island tucked away behind commercial whaling ships, where poverty has led to an exodus of its traditional sea-faring families. Midas has lived there for all of his life and prefers his solitude; he is happiest when he is capturing light from behind the lens of a camera. Ida is a tourist who has returned to the island in search of a stranger—the only person who might understand what is happening to her. When they meet, there is something about Ida that immediately catches Midas’ eye. Her oversized boots aren’t the only thing odd about her, but it is some time before Midas discovers what makes her unlike other girls. Ida has feet that are turning to glass, and it seems as though the rest of her won’t be long to follow.

Glass is only one of the mysteries harboured by St. Hauda’s Land, however. The island is a haven for fantastic creatures and strange histories, and somewhere in its bogs lies the answer that Ida seeks. This is, at its heart, the story of Ida and Midas and the love that blossoms between them despite themselves. It also the story of the people surrounding them, both dead and alive. Family secrets are unravelled slowly and carefully; some are revealed and some are tossed into the sea. Shaw has done an incredible thing in levelling the delights of the island against the despair of its inhabitants. No character in this story escapes tragedy and none of them remains unaffected by the transformation of Ida’s body into glass. And that is, of course, what this story is really about. No one thing transforms in solitude. As Ida changes, so do those around her.

It is important, I think, to embrace stories with apparently unhappy endings, stories that are somehow incomplete. We never do learn how or why glass takes hold of someone. We never learn the origin of the creatures that flit impossibly through this tale. They exist, perhaps, to remind us that sometimes there is no explanation for the things that happen to us and to those we love. In The Girl with Glass Feet, Shaw has deftly woven the elements of several fairy tales into a cohesive whole, providing us with a tapestry of love, despair and finally acceptance of those things we cannot change.