What is it that makes you want to read a book?
The author? Or the cover illustration, the title, the font and colours? They’re all designed to appeal. But what makes you actually pick it up? For me it varies. Sometimes it’s one of those elements, sometimes another. Sometimes it’s the book’s thickness – whether I want a real doorstop, or a shorter, quicker read.
In the case of this book, it was the title. When I received it for review it was titled The Particular The Wisdom Of Sally Red Shoes.
That original title intrigued me
The particular wisdom. Not just your common or garden wisdom. The “Particular” was dropped pre-publication. The publisher must have had their reasons. No doubt something to do with a focus group. But I think it’s a bit of shame. That original title said more.
The story is about four women, and it’s recounted by two of them.
Masha was once a spirited, independent woman with a rebellious streak. Then twelve years ago a tragic event changed her life. She finds solace in the silent company of the souls of her local Victorian cemetery and at the town’s lido.
Alice’s chapters describe motherhood, as son Mattie grows from biddable darling baby to stroppy teenager….
The red shoes
The red shoes of the title aren’t either of theirs, though. They belong to one of the other two women, a bag lady who feeds the birds at the cemetery.
I’ll warn you: Sally’s language is fruity, to say the least. But let me quote from the book: “Her vocabulary belies her demeanour. Her manner is unfailingly gracious and she enunciates her expletives beautifully. Their literal meaning is incidental. It is as though the dictionary in her brain has been scrambled, and all the words and their meanings have become mismatched.”
This careful explanation captures, I think, the charm of Sally as a character, and her vulnerability so that we would feel mean to be offended.
The fourth is Kitty Muriel, a seventy-something roller-disco fanatic…
The lives of all four women interweave in ways that will make you gasp and weep, and that’s what this story is about: human connections. At times it’s challenging but ultimately very rewarding and yes, enjoyable.
The Wisdom Of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan (author of the superb The Keeper Of Lost Things, btw) is out now in Two Roads hardback.
And Ruth also wrote the most wonderful story, especially for The People’s Friend. You can find Elsie-Mae Saves The Day in Special 160, on sale now.