Italian Shoes

Italian Shoes

There’s something magical about reading a book when you know absolutely nothing about it except that it’s been recommended by someone you trust. You dive into a mysterious place with no expectations for the journey, just the knowledge that a real adventure is hidden between the covers. (It’s similar with a movie that you know nothing about too, when it’s a good film and not just a blockbuster entertainment; but right now I’m talking about books.)

When I picked up the intriguingly named Italian Shoes by Swedish writer Henning Mankell, I knew absolutely nothing about the book or the author and the recommender is a friendly acquaintance rather than a close friend, someone I’ve only met briefly a couple of times and talked to a handful of times more on the phone. And yet I trusted her recommendation enough to pick up the book from the library. As often happens when I get unknown books from the library I was a little wary; but I decided to take the plunge. And then stayed up far too late several nights in a row because this is one of those books. The kind that grabs you and won’t let go.

So if you like that kind of plunge, stop reading now and go get the book. Then you’ll approach it with nothing more than I had going in. And maybe it will be magical for you too. If you need a bit more convincing, though, read on.

It’s not that the protagonist is a likable man. He’s not really. But he’s intriguing, an enigma, a stranger to everyone around him and most of all to himself. What was the mysterious catastrophe in his past? Why has he exiled himself on an island with a dog and a cat and no human contact except the occasional visits from the hypochondriac postman? Why is he so soul-dead that he must take a daily plunge into a hole cut into the ice to remind himself that he is still alive? And then who is this mysterious woman from his past who shows up one day walking across the ice with a walker? I suppose it’s not a surprise to find out that Mankell is best known for his mystery novels. This novel isn’t a mystery; but it does have much of the same flavor and structure.

I always feel more lonely when it’s cold. The book should have seemed cold and foreboding and yet there was a spark of life in the midst of this cold, frozen land. Something calling to the sleeper to awake? The ice is here to stay. The narrator wants to deny even the possibility of change. He has spent so much of his life running away from life, refusing to engage. He’s lonely, miserable, a snoop and a sneak. But for some reason I found myself rooting for him. I wanted the ice to thaw. I wanted to see what could possibly happen to wrench him back into the land of the living. And I wanted to know how he’d got to where he was. And what’s up with the title? How do Italian shoes fit into this grim ice-locked landscape?

Now if you’ve read this far you already know considerably more about the book than I did when I began to read. And I so want to preserve the mysteries to let you discover them for yourself. But I’m also dying to talk about it and don’t know anyone else who’s read it. I want to write about it because writing is how I process. So here’s the deal. I’m going to use a feature I don’t use very often and continue writing all my spoilers after the jump. If you want to read them, click “more”. If you want to just go get the book and read it with most of the mysteries intact, then stop here.


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  • Oh Melanie, yes, I will be praying.  I will light my Our Lady of Guadalupe candle for her as well today.  All the Angels and Saints, pray for Amy!

  • Thank you so much for the prayers. It’s just a cyst. Amy will be ok and the baby is fine. Amy is very, very grateful for all the prayers.

  • I was hoping to hear an update!!  Thank you for posting!!  Funny story, I did light our OLG candle in the afternoon and later that evening we went out to dinner.  I normally blow all candles out before I leave the house, but missed this one.  So, when I got home a couple hours later with the house mostly dark, there was our OLG candle burning away.  I said a quick prayer to Jesus in thanksgiving that one of the cats didn’t knock it over and burn the house down!!  (It is on a shelf that they could get to if they wanted to, but I have never seen them do so…but anyway).  So OLG and Jesus were definitely looking out for us!!!  Have a great weekend!

  • Thanks, Marie. Amy is convinced her positive outcome is due to all the prayers.

    I’m glad your cats didn’t get your candle too.