Goldie Goldbloom | The Paperbark Shoe (Picador)

Goldbloom’s writing mirrors the novel’s musical theme, weaving staccato snapshots of Gin’s childhood into the legato musings of her present life.




The Paperbark Shoe was originally published under the much more interesting, albeit ill-suited, title Toad’s Museum of Freaks and Wonders. The new title, its calligraphy typeface (I read it incorrectly as "The Paperback Shoe" for days), the cover art (a photo of a corset set against a field), and even the author’s name scream romance novel (my apologies to Goldie Goldbloom). But I did finally pick up the book, and I read it—and read, and read, and couldn’t put it down until I knew what was going to happen to these characters. Goldbloom makes her debut as a novelist here, although you could never tell; her prose sweeps the reader away. She displays a mastery of language far beyond what most writers possess even after years of experience.

The story centers on an albino Australian woman named Gin, whose dreams of being a concert pianist were shattered by the prejudices of those in charge of her future. She has since married a man she does not love, and their life on a farm is interrupted by the arrival of two Italian POWs. This last part is based on historical fact, and the story goes on to examine what happens when the former prisoners become friends and family to Gin, her husband, Toad, and their children. Because I hate spoilers, the plot summary ends there.

Although this is a love story in part and it can be romantic, the book shines mostly for Goldbloom’s ability to intertwine present-day love triangles present with the history of the main character and display it all against the scenery of the Australian landscape. Australia seems like a character in its own right because the weather and topography are so integral to the story, and Goldbloom describes the land using stark images that leave lasting impressions. As for the actual characters, they are all pitiful and appalling, funny and disgusting, with well-rounded personalities that seem very real. Even Gin isn’t totally likeable, although her actions are justifiable; and Toad, who is perhaps the antagonist, still shines in moments of redemption from time to time, charming in his gross chauvinism.

Goldbloom’s writing mirrors the novel’s musical theme, weaving staccato snapshots of Gin’s childhood into the legato musings of her present life. Both flow seamlessly into the main plot, which crescendos into despair, only to decrescendo to a delicate, soul-smearing ending. Gin struggles with love, how to give and receive it. This is nothing new in the world of novels; it is only Goldbloom’s unapologetic treatment of the subject, her unashamed honesty about the ugly and base, that elevates this story to the sublime and leaves the reader crushed and elated all at once. In fact, I’m convinced after finishing it that Goldbloom intended the entire thing as an elegy to Gin’s deceased daughter, Joan.

The Paperbark Shoe is not to be missed. What looks like light summer reading based on the cover is actually an exceptional first novel by a writer sure to achieve both critical and commercial success. | Lacey Morgan


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