Top critical review
Did not enjoy it
on 14 February 2012
This book was shortlisted for the Costa in 2009, and Amazon had been suggesting it to me in 'Recommended For You' I think based on the fact that I had bought 'The Help' and I was looking for a 'light' book. The Guardian described it as 'Magical'. I do not concur.
It's a magical realism tale, an impossible event couched in real world parameters. Ida Maclaird returns to St Hauda's Land, a fictionalised island I took to be intended as similar to the Scottish Hebrides. Her feet have begun to turn to glass and she seeks to discover a strange man she encountered on a previous visit whom she hopes will help her.
The other main character is Midas Crook, an isolated photographer who begins a friendship with Ida.
The allusion here is obvious, in Greek Mythology Midas turned all he touched to gold, our Midas has a problem with touch and is afraid to touch Ida, not merely in case she may turn to glass. Despite being a rather original idea, a modern twist on an ancient myth, subtle, the allusion isn't.
The mystery of what causes her glass feet is never resolved which I found annoying, and I found many of the behaviours of all characters unrealistic. Why didn't she go to a real doctor? Why didn't she become a victim of a media circus? Why is nearly every character, particularly the male characters, isolated, socially stunted and emotionally disturbed, so they all become overly similar? It's a bit naff.
There is an overarching theme of frustrated love in which no character ultimately gets what they want and most love affairs reach a dead end for various reasons such as unrequited love, death and mental illness. In short, every love story in this book is tragic, morbid and a bit depressing. You aren't swept away on a tide of magical romance.
In all writing, however much you enjoy reading it you often find a sentence or two perhaps a paragraph that for you is a truth. A general truth or a personal truth but a human truth nonetheless.
I particularly enjoyed the following lines :
"It didn't take tragedy or war to derail a man. It took only a memory."
"As if you could terminate love abruptly because the one you loved signed papers with someone else in a church"
"Was there something embryonic between them or had she simply misunderstood him?"
I liked all these quotes and felt the emotional reality of them. The first one particularly resonated with me as I consider myself someone who has experienced the phenomenon of being "derailed by a memory" but had never thought of it in exactly those words before. I liked the phrase.
In spite of a few nice lines however, I did not essentially think much of this book, it was fairly short, and so a quick read which was a blessing considering. I think that this book would disappoint more readers than it would please, approaching expecting one thing and experiencing another. Perhaps I have a heart of stone, but I was not moved, despite assurances from Amazon reviews that I would be.