#bookreview The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan ‪@ruthmariehogan ‬published by @TwoRoadsBooks

Masha is drowning.

Once a spirited, independent woman with a rebellious streak, her life has been forever changed by a tragic event twelve years ago.

Unable to let go of her grief, she finds solace in the silent company of the souls of her local Victorian cemetery and at the town’s lido, where she seeks refuge underwater – safe from the noise and the pain.

But a chance encounter with two extraordinary women – the fabulous and wise Kitty Muriel, a convent girl-turned-magician’s wife-turned-seventy-something-roller-disco-fanatic, and the mysterious Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady with a prodigious voice – opens up a new world of possibilities, and the chance to start living again.

Until the fateful day when the past comes roaring back…

My reading experience:

One woman is coming alive, another is dying …

Masha goes to the swimming pool to alleviate the pain of her grief and usually finds some kind of solace on taking herself to the edge of drowning. Actually it’s her dog Haizum that saves her life every day, creating a daily routine of needs and comforts, and the inspiration to get up each day. She loves to take Haizum (we find out why her beloved dog is called this later) to the Victorian cemetery, walking amongst the angelic headstones and communing with the dead. Masha knows a lot about the history of death and dying rituals.

But grief is not a linear thing. It re-boots unexpectedly at a certain smell or sight or sound …”

A lot of Masha’s story is about death – cemetery dog walks, cemetery tea parties, reading books about death, her goal to be a cemetery tour guide, her Family in the Other Side, and dwelling on her loss of Gabriel – so be prepared. Having said that, this is a powerful story about coming alive, waking up.

It’s at the cemetery that she meets Sally red shoes and her ‘uncomplicated capacity for happiness’. Sally red shoes is like a gateway for Masha. Without the bouts of wisdom from Sally, Masha would never have been so star struck and inviting of Kitty Muriel. As a reader I adore Kitty. Colour, exuberance, roller-disco, red nail polish … glamour and total personification of “This is me.” Kitty completes the coming alive process for Masha.

However, interwoven through the chapters of a changing Masha, is the story of Alice. Alice is struggling each day to be the mother she needs to be to Mattie, and Mattie is scared because his mother is dying. I like the way that the author has placed life and death so closely together, putting death back into daily vocabulary and enlightening readers with its ritual and reinvention.

Ruth Hogan depicts Masha’s life with grace, eloquence, melancholy and this elegant writing is even more exquisite than in The Keeper of Lost Things.

Themes: Life, death and ritual, cemeteries, swimming, infantile death, grief, loss, live, trust, friendship, support, cancer

I highly recommend this second novel from Ruth Hogan. It is an amazing piece of artistry. Thanks to John Murray Press and Netgalley for my ARC.

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