Shoe shine or boot camp?

Much has been made of a survey by "Woman and Home" magazine that the "average woman" over 40 in the UK has 19 pairs of shoes, with 5 per cent of women having more than 100 pairs. Nothing beats a woman’s desire to show off a fresh pair of heels – Britain – Times Online is a typical write-up.

However, I would respectfully suggest that the readers of "Woman and Home", a magazine of which I’ve never heard, might be quite likely to over-represent the upper echelons of the shoe-owning fraternity.

Shoes have always been something of an elusive dream to me, as I have had very big feet since I was born, which became larger than the biggest standard women’s shoe size when I was about 14. These days it is easier to buy large-size shoes than it was when I was of an age where I cared about these things. But actually, I never cared that much, preferring to categorise shoes with make-up, jewelry and all those other mysteries of femininity that I never quite understood or became aware of. (Oddly, as my next sister was rather adept at all that kind of stuff, so I am not sure why it all passed me by.)

Marginally more interesting than the magazine survey, though, was a review by Joanna Trollope of all people in last Saturday’s Times of a book called "Shoes: a History from Sandals to Sneakers". This book purports to be about the cultural significance of shoes through the ages. Hmm.

Prompted by this lunacy, The Times roped in its fashion editor Lisa Armstrong to list her favourite shoe books. Lisa Armstrong is the woman who criticised Margaret Beckett’s dress sense in several pages and a cover story in the Times upon her (Beckett’s) appointment as Foreign Secretary (let’s get our priorities right, after all). A sad day for women journalists as role models.

So what are Lisa’s top five shoe books? Several Grimm’s fairy tales (Cindarella, Elves and Shoemaker); Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons; Ballet Shoes (and other similar) by Noel Streatfeild; Tess of the d’Urbervilles (that one made me think a bit — Lisa means the bit where Tess loses her pair of boots); and two I’d never heard of: Drawings by Mahlo Blahnik and How to Walk in High Heels by Camilla Morton.

What would be your choice of a great shoe book? I’d go for:

First on the Moon by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. ("one small step….")

The Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum

Journals of Captain Scott ( "I may be some time….")

Hop o’my thumb (also known as "seven league boots")

Walkabout by James Vance Marshall (I loved this book as a young girl — it was one of Peter Weir’s first movies, maybe his very first, starring Jenny Agutter.)

Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault

and the complete works of Alfred Wainwright (the Lake District guide)

Any better ideas? Or are these suggestions shoe- (oops, shoo!) -ins?

A walk in the dark

"There’s a song…."
" ‘Losing my religion’. "
She screwed up her eyes, then said yes. "You know what that means: losing my religion?"
"I know what it means literally. Is there another meaning?"
"It’s an idiomatic expression. It means something like: I can’t take it any more".


That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
And I haven’t said enough.

Gianrico Carofiglio’s second novel, A Walk in the Dark, is even better than his excellent debut, Involuntary Witness. Although translated with more assurance than Witness (this time by Howard Curtis), the author has matured, adding depth to the characters who appeared in the previous novel and introducing new ones who are instantly real. The confident dovetailing of back-story and character development as the plot unfolds is unfaltering.

Against the background of a legal case — this time Guido Guerrieri is prosecuting a well-connected man for abusing his girlfriend — the book is a perfect jewel. The themes are addiction — to alcohol, cigarettes, fear or to a behaviour pattern — and coping with the premature loss of a relationship — by illness, death or cruelty. The context is corruption. I have some personal knowledge of the baroque and sinister lunacies of the Italian legal system, obviously not by any means as extensive as Carofiglio’s (he used to be a judge), but enough to know that his accounts of the machinations are realistic.

The result is a powerful, insightful and compelling account of a tragedy — or two or three. If you only read one book for the rest of this year, make it this one.

This review is archived, with Amazon links, at my Vox blog "Maxine’s book reviews".