Sunday, 20 June 2010

Henning Mankell: Italian Shoes

I love Henning Mankell’s Wallander books - well plotted and written - so I thought I’d try one of his mainstream novels, the newly published ‘Italian Shoes’. In the beginning I was gripped by it. Mankell gets right inside the psychology of an aging recluse who has lived alone on a remote Swedish island for twelve years with only a dog and cat for company and the occasional appearance of a hypochondriac postman called Jansson. The descriptions of the frozen landscape made me (almost) want to move to Scandinavia.
One morning, the solitary recluse wakes up to see an elderly woman standing on the ice beside the landing stage, propped up by her zimmer frame, and realises that his past has tracked him down. Hannah, who is dying prematurely of cancer, has come to find him and, in a variety of devious ways, bring him to account. After this point the book begins to fall apart.
I didn’t find the central section of the book credible and the writing was thinner than the first. The book picks up towards the end, but I always felt that my credibility was being stretched too far. What kept me reading was the character - an utterly believable, deeply flawed individual who is made to behave in ways that are alien to him. His redemption didn’t ring true, as if the author had striven for ways to bend character and plot towards the happy resolution he wanted the book to have.
The Italian shoes of the title? These have a mythic, almost fairy tale significance in the story. Deep in the forest dwells an elderly Italian shoe-maker who only makes shoes for international celebrities. A pair of red stilletto heels tap, in a rebellious fashion, through the plot, and a special pair of shoes is ordered for the hero of the novel, to be delivered at a symbolic moment.

1 comment:

  1. I love Henning Mankell’s Wallander books as well and especially the last one he launched, it was very intriguing and overwhelming!