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MisterHobgoblin

The Ruby Slippers

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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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I've had this on my wish list ever since I read abut it on a book blog - thanks for confirming that it deserves its place there.

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Thank you for your review introducing The Ruby Slippers to BGO, MH.  I may not have  noticed it  otherwise and would have missed out on an excellent book. Once I began reading it was hard to put down and I enjoyed it immensely.

 

The Ruby Slippers begins with the introduction of the main characters - Rosa, the very stinky bag lady;  Michael,  the  deli owner and his family;  James, whose partner is dying;  Siobhan, the unhappy teenager; Harrison, the youth heading for a criminal future and  McBride, the tyrannical invalid with his patient nurse, Inez.    I quickly became fascinated with each of them and their problems, and also with a few minor characters .   I wanted to keep reading as they progressed from day to day, although their lives begin to intertwine a little and later the  slippers serve to bring them more closely together.

 

The clear descriptions of the characters and their actions are so believable they come alive in your mind and evoke sadness, sympathy, anger, amusement and many other emotions. A tired nurse in a hospital, her patience and sympathy reluctantly rationed for each case as there is always a new one needing more of the same.  The desolation and despair in the factual description of the weary and hopeless everyday life in Latvia, before and during World War 2.  There is glaring contrast between an inappropriate stark funeral and a subsequent joyous celebration of the same life elsewhere. Later, we are a swept into a hilariously outrageous PR happening in Times Square.

 

There is a final twist in the story that I found a little trite and wished the author had not used it, but that is a minor personal quibble.

 

I  gladly recommend this book and look forward to reading future books by this author. 

Edited by grasshopper

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I find myself enjoying this book more and more in retrospect. I was completely absorbed in it while I was reading it - though I did get a little irritated over Sibbohan's mobile phone. In my experience (having survived three 14 year olds) they do not let an adult go anywhere near their phones. However it was a very good read, beautifully written as Mr HG said, but while I was so deep in it I didn't appreiate how well balanced it is or how refreshingly un-syrupy.

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