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  1. The Ruby Slippers are, of course, the shoes worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard Of Oz. And, as everybody knows, if you click the heels three times and repeat “there’s no place like home”, then home is where you go. In Keir Alexander’s novel, we meet an old bag lady, Rosa, and her dog Barrell as they buy provisions from the Sunrise delicatessen, run by Michael Marcinkus. Michael is, we discover, Rosa’s nephew. As it goes, Michael is one to harbour a grudge and he has a pretty big grudge against Rosa who, it seems had swanned off to Hollywood to live it up whilst Michael and his family were left behind to face first the Germans and then the Russians in wartime Latvia. However, Michael knows that Rosa has a pair of Judy Garland’s ruby slippers stashed away somewhere in her rubbish strewn apartment and when the opportunity arises… The novel is one that follows a group of disparate characters and switches back and forth between storylines every page or two. We follow Michael; a gay man, James, visiting his dying partner in hospital; Siobhan, a teenage girl; Harrison, a delinquent black kid who hangs around across the road from Michael’s deli; Malachi McBride, a lonely man in a wheelchair; and various bit part characters. Then, there is a long letter from Rosa, giving us the background to her migration and early years in the United States. The stories are well crafted and interlink just enough to create a coherent whole without relying on Dickensian coincidences. The ruby slippers themselves keep a low profile for much of the book. They are the MacGuffin that brings the characters together, allows then to display their true colours. But little by little, they steal their way into the story, representing dreams, memories, hope and love. Those whose lives are touched by the slippers go on a metaphorical journey – some are great, others small – but each undergoes some form of positive transformation. Just like in the film, the transformation is generally in the form of valuing what you already have – a journey that leads you back to home. The writing is superb. The details conjure up locations perfectly. The narrative has atmosphere. The reader feels the characters’ emotions. The pacing is perfect and the way the narrative keeps cutting away is well times, leaving little cliff-hangers all over the place. The ending seems well judged too; the strands do tie up and it is a broadly happy ending, though with a touch of melancholy just to stop things becoming saccharine. It’s a bit like the end of The Wizard Of Oz; Dorothy may be happy to be home, but home is still in Kansas. *****
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