Review of The Red Shoe
The story depicts family life in suburban Australia in the 1950s as seen through the eyes of three sisters. Elizabeth is fifteen and suffering from a nervous breakdown. She sits and home with the Sydney Morning Herald, extracts of which are interspersed throughout the novel. Eleven-year-old Frances is quiet and self-possessed. Mostly, however, we see into the skewed world of six-year-old Matilda, in whose mind the boundaries of the probably, the possible, and the fantastic have not yet formulated. She is told not to make friends with strangers, but is adamant that she will be friends "even with stones and houses and big blocks of wood and glass." She has an invisible friend, Floreal, who whispers things she would rather not here.
The girls' lives are apparently ordinary and orderly, distinguished only by the long absences of their father, a merchant seaman. The highlights are the pet competition at school, a visit to the cinema, a picnic at the beach, and the visits of Uncle Paul in their father's absence. Through Matilda's eyes even these mundane events appear vivid and strange. As the novel develops, it is clear that there are disturbing aspects to the girls' lives. The peculiar turmoil of adult life, which they glimpse through the media and sometimes nearer home, is too close for comfort, and each has found a means of keeping anxiety at bay.
This mesmerizing novel sets the fears and joys of childhood against a particular social reality in prose that is intriguing, amusing, and disconcerting to the reader. Dubosarsky is a writer who ought to be better known outside her native country.
Published in 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up on January 1, 2009.