Bedford author Ruth Hogan’s second novel, The Particular Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes, is a triumph. Her first novel, The Keeper of Lost Things, which I reviewed a year ago in the February/March 2018 edition of OVL, has been surpassed.
There are two narrators: Masha who is living with grief and guilt over the drowning of her son, Gabriel, who “died twelve years, seven months and eleven days ago” and Alice, who has cancer and lives with her son, Mattie. The two women have never met.
Masha walks her dog, Haizum, in her local Victorian cemetery where she talks to the dead and invents stories about their lives. Every week she practises drowning at the town lido. At the cemetery she befriends an eccentric old woman she names Sally Red Shoes, who swears and sings and feeds the crows. She also makes friends with another amazing woman, the enchanting Kitty Muriel, a singer and actor. It is through these friendships that Masha is able to accept her loss.
The other narrator, Alice, had stillbirths and miscarriages before Mattie and is over-protective of him. He finds it hard to deal with his mother’s anxiety and then her illness and Alice is desperate about what will happen to him when she dies.
The novel deals with dark themes - death and bereavement - but the author entertains and delights with her large cast of intriguing and unusual characters, beautiful descriptive prose, and humour. I particularly enjoyed the interaction between Masha and her mother on their trip to Brighton and her father’s court hearing.
The publication date for Ruth Hogan’s third novel, Queenie Malone's Paradise Hotel, is February 2019.
This review was written by Roz Masters and first appeared in the FebMar 2019 edition of OVL Magazine.