By Anna Davis
Reviewed by Jodie
Characters luxuriating in the sin soaked atmosphere of 1920s Paris in the grip of artistic development create a heady mix of chick-lit and historical romance in Anna Davis’ ‘The Shoe Queen’. The usual pattern of a chick-lit plot line is present in much of the book, but it is so well disguised by settings and characters that would never appear in a chick-lit novel about the present day that the book never feels formulaic. Davis seems determined to challenge the usual formula of chick-lit in order to do what is best for her characters and yet still fills her book with the fun and fashion readers enjoy about this genre.
Genevive Shelby King is in love with the bohemian nature of Paris, but is prevented from immersing herself fully in the artistic lifestyle by her husband Robert, who makes it possible for her to live in Paris. She lives vicariously through the affairs of her best friend Lulu, a singer and artists model, and throws herself into being glamorous and a great hostess. She especially loves shoes and has a large collection, which make her feel better about her life. Her meeting with a famous shoe designer disturbs her ordered marriage with the caring, yet disappointing, Robert. Paolo Zachari refuses to make her a pair of his famous, individually handcrafted shoes and throws her world into turmoil.
Genevive is a new kind of chick-lit heroine. Her obsession with shoes is not mere frivolity but represents a deep longing for happiness and a quest for perfection. While readers will love Genevive for her lust for life she is often not a nice heroine, separating her from the bulk of women represented in chick-lit. She marries her husband to escape her family home, although she is never convinced that she loves him, she cheats on him and she keeps herself from real intimacy with him. She also has a shocking secret in her past, which could jeopardise her lifestyle. The nature of her secret is intriguing but it is her discovery of passion and love that make her such an interesting character to follow around the streets of Paris.
Paolo takes the typical dark, brooding and powerful chick-lit hero to a new level. At the beginning of the book, he is rather a dark character who glories in his power over women. There is a disturbing scene in his workshop when he eventually agrees to fit Genevive for a pair of shoes. Later when he presents her with the shoes, he demonstrates his power over her by making her undress and walk for him in his shoes. As the novel progresses the reader is shown his vulnerable side and the limits of his power are exposed. It is interesting to see so much character development of the main male character, when often in chick-lit the main female character is concentrated on. Using a third person narrative allows Davis much more freedom to show the reader what her characters are like than the first person, more familiar narrative that is used in many chick-lit novels.
The novel is full of secrets, sex and scandals that create a noir ambiance that fits with the setting of 1920s Paris. Suicide, critical illnesses and spontaneous artistic outbursts all mingle to create a whirling, dark city full of intrigue and desire. Although the book centres around Genevive it is also confidently independent of her at the same time. Lulu, her best friend, Guy, her first lover and Norman, the poet and editor are not just a pieces of scenery in her story. They are characters who produce scenes of tragedy and passion that are equally as fascinating as the main story of Genevive’s growing love and understanding.
Readers looking for a book full of romance that shrugs off traditional chick-lit constraints on plot and character will find ‘The Shoe Queen’ a magnificently freeing book. Also perfect for people who love shoes.