Italian Shoes


The first Henning Mankell novel I've read, Italian Shoes paints a vivid picture of a year in an older man's life, and is set on an isolated, wintry island in the Swedish archipelago. The narrative has a river-like flow to it, pushing forward at an easy pace till there's a jagged rock jutting out, which surprises but has a sheen of plausibility. In this covid era, I quickly latched on to the novel's theme of isolation. Here's a guy who has tucked himself away from the world for over a decade; his only regular contact with the outside is a hypochondriac postman who seldom has anything to deliver. The novel is narrated by this recluse. He's a doctor and surgeon, formally anyway—he'd remind us. And he gets crowbarred out of his seclusion by a woman who shows up and turns out to be a girl he discarded way back when he was a young man. More spoilers... She's dying of cancer, takes him on a mid-winter road trip, and we get to see a character (him) change gradually, and convincingly, over the months that follow—an arc which many authors in their fiction fail to realize. Mankell is known for his crime stories, none of which I've read. I think I will. He's got an adeptly light touch for floating or coasting—not prodding or pulling—a narrative forward. And his prose in Italian Shoes are softly illuminated by subtleties that can stir the soul.

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