"The beautiful, charismatic Petra Penfold-Knight, accustomed to her own way from birth, grows up to lead a religious cult whose devotess wear red shoes. The cult attracts members through Petra's magnetism, as well as by more sinister means, such as stealing children born to unmarried girls.
"Imbued with ancient narrative myths, music and dance, Red Shoes is told by Petra's guardian angel, who has a unique slant on the nature of reality and on the darker side of female sexuality. The angel's perception is subversive, playful and sublimely witty, and illuminates Petra's surface allure, which disguises a complex yet brutal personality and a moral vacuum."
This story concerns three women: Petra, Sylvie and Colette. To avoid any chance of mystification, I want to explain that Sylvie was Colette's mother, and that Petra adopted Colette and renamed her Celeste. Petra was the leader of a religious community of which Celeste was a member from birth. The group marked its singularity by the wearing of red shoes or sandals, like fairyfolk. Sylvie did not belong to the community.
When Petra was a child in the forties living with her large family in a decaying old house in a small town in Tasmania, she liked to spend her time in a room at the back of the house. This was a large dark room where there were old books and magazines left behind by people who had lived in the house before. Petra liked to read and dream and imagine. In one of the magazines Petra found a tinted photograph of a very small and fragile girl. The girl was sitting on a nimble rattan chair which was placed on the leaf of a giant lily pad in the middle of a pool in southern India. The edges of the leaf, which was six feet across, were turned up like the rim of a platter. It was a miracle the way the girl could sit there in a chair on the surface of the water, as if the liquid had turned to ice. Perhaps there was a thin sheet of glass below the surface? Perhaps it was just what it seemed, a marvellous trick of nature where lily leaves were so strong that they could support the weight of a child on a chair. The name of the plant, Victoria regia, was supplied with the picture; the child was anonymous. The wonderful image of the child lodged in Petra's heart. Petra carried with her forever a belief that in some way she was that child, that princess in the frothy white dress, the white stockings, the button boots made from the soft skins of young goats, dyed red. The colours were subtle, faded.
That child, Petra told herself, is me.
From the Viking paperback edition, 1998.
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Last modified: January 16, 2002.