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Cover for The Girl with Glass Feet

The Girl with Glass Feet

A Novel

Ali Shaw


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January 2010 Indie Next List

“When Ida Maclaird meets Midas Crook, she is slowly turning into glass. As the two young people search for answers, they must confront past ghosts and untangle their feelings for one another before time runs out. Haunting and beautiful and sad, Ali Shaw's debut novel tackles the bonds of family, the nature of love, and the power of transformation, all twisted together in prose that sparkles and captivates.”
— Erin Kurup, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, NY
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Strange things are happening on the remote and snowbound archipelago of St. Hauda's Land. Magical 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 who has only visited the islands 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.

The Girl with Glass Feet is a love story to treasure, "crafted with elegance and swept by passionate magic and the yearning for connection. A rare pleasure" (Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love).

Praise For The Girl with Glass Feet: A Novel

“Fantastically imagined.... The hybrid form of the book--fairy tale, myth, psychological realism and fantasy--impresses. But Shaw's most delightful offerings are the vivid details he provides to make the magical real.... As Ida turns to glass, Midas must continue his own transformation, from hardened to human. The end of the book, saturated with color and emotion, is risky and brave like the message it imparts. Only a heart of glass would be unmoved.” —Robin Romm, New York Times Book Review

“Ali Shaw has created a memorable addition to [the] fabulist pantheon in his gorgeous first novel, The Girl with Glass Feet.... Over the course of this eerie, bewitching novel, the mixture of love and grief and the imminence of death become as memorable as Ida's mysterious, dreadful transformation and Midas's more achingly human one ... Shaw acknowledges the influence of writers like Andersen, Kafka and Borges (Shaw's menagerie of perfectly detailed, marvelous creatures could have stepped from the pages of "The Book of Imaginary Beings"). But it's Andersen's melancholy tales, steeped in loss and a brooding sense of fatedness, that shimmer around the edges of The Girl with Glass Feet. Every character in this novel yearns for a love that seems just out of reach: Midas's unhappy parents; Henry Fuwa; Carl Maulsen, who loved Ida's mother; Emiliana, the island woman who might have a cure for Ida's illness; Ida herself--all of them are bound by threads of betrayal and desire and hope, until Fate cuts those threads, calmly and without remorse.” —Elizabeth Hand, Washington Post

The Girl with Glass Feet is a love story, not just about two people falling in love, but also about love itself: its power, its limits, and its consequences.... Although Shaw's novel is set in the present, everything's turned askew, resulting in a world that is at once banal--the car won't start; the coffee's getting cold--and fantastical--glass feet; glass hearts. Shaw makes the crucial decision to leave the human emotions and relationships in the realm of the believable, while embedding them in terrain that is ever so slightly surreal. Somehow it's never implausible. Shaw is at his best when describing the fantastical world he's created. His language manages to be poetic and economical.... The look, the sound, and the scent of St. Hauda's Land stay with you after turning the last page of this beautiful novel.” —Buzzy Jackson, The Boston Globe

“Ali Shaw's engrossing and moving debut novel ... is a story of a strange land and its strange inhabitants, but at heart it's a sincere but unsentimental love story.... The joy that Ida and Midas share, after Midas takes those first risky steps toward love, is so beautifully captured that their happiness beats back the drear and shadows.... The dreamy atmosphere curls around you until you see, hear and smell the moors and bogs.... The ending bridges the gap between fairy tales old and new.” —Lisa McLendon, Wichita Eagle

“Ali Shaw shows immense promise with his deft use of language, which sings in a book that is at its heart filled with sadness. The soft light on the island plays coyly with the thick vegetation, casting glorious shadows and producing a riot of images all ably captured by Midas' camera and Shaw's prose.” —Vikram Johri, The Chicago Sun-Times

“Ali Shaw has a gift for storytelling and an obvious love of language. His descriptions are poetic and original.... The Girl With Glass Feet is a work of great imagination and talent. Mr. Shaw never tells us what causes the glassification, but that leaves the reader open to decide whether the tale is merely a modern fairy tale, or whether turning into glass is in itself a metaphor for a larger, human condition that creates change bringing moments of pain and pleasure.” —Corinna Lothar, The Washington Times

“The cold northern islands of St. Hauda's Land are home to strange creatures and intertwining human secrets in Shaw's earnest, magic-tinged debut.... Both love story and dirge, Shaw's novel flows gracefully and is wonderfully dreamlike, with the danger of the islands matched by the characters' dark pasts.” —Publishers Weekly

“Ali Shaw offers the rare delight of a world freshly and richly imagined.... The story is soothingly spellbinding, pulling the reader with steady delicacy into the hearts and minds of its characters amid the enthralling murmur of the fantastical.” —Ariel Berg, The San Francisco Book Review

“On the surface, the book is magical, seemingly as transparent as Ida's toes. Like all the best fairy tales, though, it's tinted with a pervading sense of unease that sticks with the reader long after the cover is closed. Midas's love for a woman who is leaving the real world he despises, Ida's lost grip on humanity, the very land on which they meet, are all deeper and darker than they seem, making this a book well worth reading.” —

“This lovely fable is a chain of linked mysteries with accelerating suspense that propels the reader deep into Shaw's world of marvels. That world is crafted with elegance and swept by passionate magic and the yearning for connection. A rare pleasure.” —Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love

“Written in the tradition of magical realists like Haruki Murakami and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Girl with Glass Feet is a singular, slippery narrative that defies easy categorization. Shaw writes finely honed prose and knows how to wring maximum suspense out of a tightly woven plot. His is an accomplished first novel--a hypnotic book with an atmosphere all its own.” —Julie Hale, Bookpage

“Emotional entanglements on a faraway frozen island are shaped by romance and tragedy in a melancholic yet whimsical British debut.... [A] strikingly visual novel.... captivatingly ethereal.” —Kirkus Reviews

The Girl with Glass Feet is weirdly beautiful and highly entertaining.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Shaw has worked the great tradition of European fairy tales and come up with an ingenious story ... A magical fable of fate and resignation.” —The Guardian (UK)

The Girl with Glass Feet is not just special--it's remarkable.... [This] debut novel conjures up the extraordinary and fantastic, yet places it firmly in our digital world.... It's a very visual novel--readers who enjoy using their imagination will adore it.” —Helen Peacock, The Oxford Times (UK)

“A haunting and magical tale.... One of the most original and memorable love stories I've read in a long time.... It takes a real talent to create such an imaginative setting yet still make readers believe and care about the characters, but first-time novelist Ali Shaw pulls it off in dazzling style, spinning an unforgettable story so vividly described that the reader is only too willing to suspend disbelief in order to be transported into his sad and lovely world.” —Morag Lindsay, Aberdeen Press and Journal

Picador, 9780312680459, 304pp.

Publication Date: January 4, 2011

About 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.

Conversation Starters from

  1. Light is a motif that permeates the novel. What is the significance of light in the story? What does light mean to Midas? Why is it meaningful that the jellyfish of St. Hauda’s Land emit light when they die?
  2. Why is Midas drawn to photography? How does his obsession color the way he looks at the world and affect his decisions? Why does Midas think that negatives are the "real photographs"?
  3. Why does Ida choose men with whom she must be endlessly patient and cannot have satisfying relationships? Why does she give Midas so many chances?
  4. What role does color—or lack thereof—play in the novel?
  5. Why does Ida make Midas promise not to tell anyone about her feet? Why is she so intent on keeping her condition a secret?
  6. Why does Henry Fuwa say that Ida’s glass transformation is not a disease, but simply a part of her (109)? Is there another way for us to understand the condition besides thinking of it as a terminal illness?
  7. What similarities and differences exist between Henry Fuwa and Carl Maulson?
  8. The major female characters—Ida, Evaline, Freya, Catherine—meet untimely and tragic deaths and in some cases make sacrifices of themselves. What does the consistent theme of female sacrifice imply about women’s roles in relationships?
  9. Hector Stallows expresses to Midas his amazement of how "a simple alignment of eyes can cause so much devastation" (202), in reference to the mysterious creature that turns everything white with its eyes. What is the importance of looking and seeing throughout the novel? Is the sense of sight ultimately more detrimental than good in the characters’ lives?
  10. Inevitability and fate are presented as the reason for many tragic events in the novel, such as Ida’s dog’s demise. Ida herself seems convinced very early on in the course of her illness that there would be no cure. Did you believe a cure would present itself? How long did you allow yourself to hope?
  11. Many characters are burdened and blinded by their guilt and regret, unable to move forward from painful events of the past. Which characters do you feel the most sympathy for? Which characters do you feel could have made different decisions to avoid their circumstances?
  12. Would Midas have been able to forgive and change his opinion of his father if he had allowed himself to read his father’s book? Is his father’s condition a complete excuse for his long-term behavior to his wife and son?
  13. Does Midas intend to recover Ida’s body after he becomes accomplished as a diver? Should he?