The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

Today I finished reading the Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw for the U.K based, Not The TV Book Group. I was glad that it was selected as one of their reads, because living in the U.S.  I doubt, it’s something I would have come across and selected in the normal course of browsing at the library or at my local independent book store.   It was luckily available at my local public library.  Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellers is also available there, so I’ll be joining the group for its next group discussion on  March7th.  I’ll then have to skip the next several reads, unless I can acquire the books through Book Mooching, as they’re not available at the library, and I’m on a budget that doesn’t allow me to buy many books.  I’ll be rejoining them, on May 23 for an old favorite, Fledgling by Octavia Butler.

While I was reading this book I thought it was part of the Cannongate Myth Series, “a series of short novels in which ancient myths from myriad cultures are re-imagined and rewritten by contemporary authors,”  which I had wanted to read something out of  Alas! It is not.  Girl Meets Boy (a very similarly titled book…you can’t blame a girl for being slightly confused), another novel by Ali Smith is part of that series.  It is a re-imaging of part of Ovid’s The Metamorphoses (recently bought and slipped in close to the top of my  TBR pile(s)).

Another reason for my confusing the two books was that the theme of metamorphosis also features prominently in the Girl with Glass Feet.

“Looking into the distance, he could see the hump on the horizon where Lomdendol Tor rose tall on westernmost Lomdendol Island.  Geologists said it had been a volcano prehistory, slobbering the islands into being, fire transforming into land.  The metamorphosis was in the rock of St. Hauda’s Land.  In quarries, blown apart boulders showed their insides turning to quartz, or revealed fossilized prisoners.  The sea gnawed at the coastline, remolding it with every year.  And in nooks and crannies uncatalogued transmogrificatio took place…”

I was impressed by Smith’s grasp of geology and biology.   To put on my science geek hat for a moment, island bio-geography was developed by one of my favorite biologists E.O. Wilson (among others) and originally sought to explain the species distributions on actual islands.    It’s application has been expanded so that the term island not only refers to actual islands, but apply to situations like a desert spring or to an expanse of grassland surrounded by housing tracts.    An even more relevant biological concept that I found myself thinking about while reading The Girl With Glass Feet was the existence of extremeophiles, or organisms adapted to thrive in extremely harsh environments that would kill other species. Examples include microorganisms found in ice or in extremely hot oceans vents.  One of the first things that grabbed me in The Girl With Glass Feet was the presence of fantastic organisms like the bull wing mouth that existed nowhere else but the St. Hauda’s islands.   Smith extends the idea of adaptation to ones environment to the people of St. Hauda’s, with Midas, at the novel’s start, being an extreme example of the reclusive secretive and strange nature of many of the inhabitants of St. Hauda’s.   The idea of how difficult it is to escape the shadow of one’s family (another environmental factor) and their destructive habits is also explored beautifully in the novel.

My favorite character in the novel was perhaps the young girl of Denver..I say perhaps only because she’s a relatively minor character in the book.  She is imaginative, shy but verbal, and precocious.

“[Denver to Midas] ‘You could be,’ she said.  You and a few other people.   You’re like me.  You’ve got it.’ [Midas to Denver] ‘Got what.’  She shrugged.  ‘A grip. on the bits in the back of your head.  And here…’  She touched her tummy.  ‘Somewhere in here.'”

Having been an imaginative, shy but verbal (I was once called a midget by an adult because I had such a large vocabulary for one so little), and precocious kid myself, I couldn’t help but instantly fall in love with her.

Mostly from my post to the group blog, thoughts on the ending behind the cut.  I felt like the ending, although she dies, isn’t a sad one. Ida’s illness/situation and the process of reaction she and those around her go, felt very authentic in terms of being similar to what someone with a terminal illness (end stage cancer etc.) and their family would go through go through. Carl is very focused (to an annoying degree) on finding a cure for what ails her and not allowing her to live out her final days in a peaceful manner. Ida at first goes along with this, but then wishes to spend her final time enjoying experiences with Midas.  She dies peaecefuly with Midas entwined with her.  Midas subsequently leaves (escapes?) life trapped on the island due to her inspiration.

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