Opening line: ‘That winter there were reports in the newspaper of an iceberg the shape of a galleon floating in creaking majesty past St. Hauda’s Land’s cliffs, of a snuffling hog leading lost hill walkers out of the crags beneath Lomdendol Tor, of a dumbfounded ornithologist counting five albino cows in a flock of two hundred.’
The people of St. Hauda’s Land are isolated, living on small islands north of the mainland, and they are used to their legends. A creature whose glance turns all living things white. Tiny bulls with insects’ wings. Glass bodies floating in the bogs. Ida Maclaird has visited the islands once before, but now she’s come back to St. Hauda’s Land because the most troubling thing has started to happen: she has started to turn into glass. Looking for a cure, she becomes enmeshed in the tangled, isolated life of Ettinsford. The people she meets are as affected by her transformation as Ida herself.
The Girl with Glass Feet is Ali Smith’s first published novel. It is unassuming at first, but crafted with strong and lyrical prose. At times the descriptions played a little too heavy on metaphors; however, this did not diminish the overall narrative. I opened the book expecting more fantasy than I received — instead, The Girl with Glass Feet borders on magical realism, rather than fantasy. St. Hauda’s Land felt like it should exist somewhere beyond the Shetland Islands: a blend of Scandinavian and British cultures and names, but with forests. It made me want to visit the Orkneys or Shetland islands even more, even in winter. I’m not sure I’d read this novel again any time soon, but it was a pleasant read while I read it.