Book Quote:

“Memories were just photos printed on synapses. As such he justified sharing some of them with the world while keeping others locked in hidden albums. Yet as he’d poured the steaming water down his water bottle’s rubber nozzle, some queasy emotion made him shudder, splashing scalding water over his hand. Was there some law at work, some authority that required him to submit his memories of Fuwa to her as evidence?”

Book Review:

Review by Debbie Lee Wesselmann  (NOV 1, 2010)

In the snow-encrusted archipelago of St. Hauda’s Land, moth-winged bulls and a creature that can turn things white with her gaze share an island with more human lives: people who lose love as quickly as they gain it and who must struggle with the baggage of the past.

Midas Crook, a young and reclusive photographer who cannot stand to be touched, fights the legacy of his father within him. When he meets Ida, a strange woman hobbling around in huge boots, he accepts her oddity the way only another misfit can. Ida, it turns out, is searching for Henry Fuwa, the erstwhile love of Midas’s mother’s life, because she believes he may hold the key to her “condition” – a creeping glassiness that has already claimed her toes and feet. But Fuwa, a “recluse in a wilderness of recluses,” does not want to be found by anyone, let alone Ida, who knows some of his secrets.

This budding romance between Ida and Midas is haunted by the unspoken. Neither can speak of a possible tragic end to their feelings, and, because of this, their affection for each other acquires a stark, almost frozen beauty. They tread carefully, as though anything too overtly passionate will shatter the glass in Ida’s legs.

At first Midas wonders whether Ida “could understand the tangles of life here. The gossip chains more powerful than television. The snooping neighbors who could detect secrets like crows detecting carrion. Almost worse than that (because you could ignore people): the way the place regurgitated unwanted details.” One of these details, protected by Henry, lies submerged in a bog, and it holds the truth that no one dares to articulate. But, despite what Midas thinks at the beginning, people cannot be ignored, either. As he discovers his own connection to others, especially to Ida, he learns that the small strip of land where he has lived his life is no longer enough.

These stories involving others on St. Hauda’s Land take shape around Midas and Ida: Midas’s childhood and the tragic relationship between his parents; Carl’s unrequited love for Ida’s mother; Gustav and his daughter Denver’s loss of Catherine; Emiliana’s faith in her healing powers; the mysterious story of Saffron. All of these stories about lost love create a creeping sadness until one realizes that it’s not the loss that counts but rather the fact that one once had love, something that the characters cannot always accept.

The delight of this novel is not the story, per se, or even the characters, but rather the delicate way the novel unfolds in a place that seems both real and not. Shaw’s prose is nothing short of extraordinary, with phrases and images that make one want to linger over pages instead of rushing through to find out what happens. The impending sense of disaster is tempered by hopefulness, both in the characters and in the description. When Shaw writes, “Light was only of use as a metaphor for the ungraspable moment. Until there was a kind of camera invented that could return you entirely to a moment from your past, pictures such as those were no use,” we understand: here, the written word is more powerful and lasting than a photograph could ever be.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 41 readers
PUBLISHER: Henry Holt and Co.; 1 edition (January 5, 2010)
REVIEWER: Debbie Lee Wesselmann
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another you might like:

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger


November 1, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Allegory/Fable, Contemporary, Debut Novel, Speculative (Beyond Reality), United Kingdom

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