Published in 2018 by Two Roads / 326 pages
Opening sentence: “The old woman fills her lungs with the crisp autumn air, throws open her arms and exhales a flawless top C.”
The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes is Ruth Hogan’s second book. Having read – and loved – her debut, The Keeper of Lost Things, I was keen to give this one a read.
The dual narrative follows the lives of two women: Masha and Alice. They don’t know each other but their stories are entwined. Masha’s son died when he was two, so for years she has been trying to deal with his loss. It is obviously a herculean task to live with this grief, but Masha is on the cusp of deciding she wants her life to change, she doesn’t want to be shrouded in grief anymore. (She has a preoccupation with going to her local cemetery and visiting graves there, as well as popping along to her local lido to frequently almost drown.) Masha meets two women – Sally Red Shoes and Kitty Muriel – who have a serendipitous impact on her life.
Alice and her son, Mattie are a supporting story line. Alice is battling her own demons and although we don’t find out as much about Alice and Mattie as characters they play an important part in the plot.
Sally Red Shoes was a pleasure to read, Ruth Hogan has a truly lyrical writing style and superbly tackles the difficult and delicate topic of grief so that you really feel for the characters. But… and I’m sorry to say there is a but… I really wanted to love this book however there were one or two things that fell a little into cliche territory for me. Masha has a ‘word of the day’ just to throw some obscure word into the mix throughout the read and not only did I find this annoying, but this is a convention that’s been used so much before. Then there were the constant references to The Book of Etiquette by Lady Troubridge (a book that Masha is gifted as an ironic present from her friend, Epiphany) that really grated on me. There’s a lot of ‘Lady T wouldn’t be pleased about that’ or ‘Lady T advises this‘ and it got a bit tiresome. It felt like it was trying to be quirky in a far too obvious and clumsy way. I would have preferred if the writing style had just been used to do this as there are some lovely descriptive sentences scattered throughout that really lends this book its offbeat tone: ‘He growled and squeaked alternatively like a duet between a grizzly bear and a guinea pig.’
Also, given that she is in the title, Sally Red Shoes wasn’t the character that stood out to me, I feel this book should have been titled ‘The Wisdom of Kitty Muriel’ as she was the far more insightful – and delightful – character. She is described as ‘a woman who looks as though she is starring in a movie of her own life, and loving every minute of it.‘ Now that is a someone you want to spend time in the company of! Overall, I wanted to love this more than I did, it was still an enjoyable read, but I didn’t finish it feeling satisfied and, for me, it just missed the mark a little.