September 06, 2007


The Lady Who Was Beautiful Inside. By Edward Monkton. Andrews McMeel. $9.95.

The Shoes of Salvation. By Edward Monkton. Andrews McMeel. $9.95.

      So…is poet Giles Andreae, writing under the pen name Edward Monkton, dispensing nuggets of wisdom for our modern age or sending out satirical vibrations? Read both these little books and you’ll have a hard time being sure. Both books begin, “There was once a LADY,” then progress in the simple, fairy-tale-like style of other Monkton books, accompanied by childlike black-and-white drawings that resemble casual doodles. Both are about forms of magic in everyday life. But their tone couldn’t be more different.

      The Lady Who Was Beautiful Inside takes the cliché about your inner being mattering more than your outer in a new direction, by suggesting that the outer world can come to mirror your inner beauty – not mirror it in your own eyes, which others have said, but actually mirror it. This book starts in a hair salon, where a lady looks at a fashion magazine and bemoans the fact that all the women pictured are stunning. “See how their LEGS reach up to the sky. See how their BOSOMS are firm and perfect.” Reading more and more of the magazine, she becomes more and more upset about the gulf between her ordinary appearance and the looks of the perfectly coiffed, airbrushed magazine models. She starts to sob – and the hairdresser reassures her that she has inner beauty, which is what matters. Yes, it’s that old chestnut about having beauty where no one can see it. But in this case, it turns out that people can see it, because after the hairdresser vanishes (for some reason), the lady walks outside into the rain, and the sun comes out and the flowers blossom and there is peace and tranquility everywhere and the world is a better place forever and ever. Okay, not quite, but that’s more or less what happens as “flowers BLOOMED in her footsteps, birds began to SING and the trees burst into BLOSSOM.” All in all, a nice little saccharine uplifting fantasy.

      But then what is The Shoes of Salvation? It starts in much the same way, as the story of a lady who “was not RICH” but “was not POOR either,” and who was “CONTENT enough” but “could not help feeling that there was something MISSING.” She knows that there is something out there that can “make her WHOLE. Give her MEANING.” And it’s not a man, a journey, a spiritual awakening or a holy calling. It turns out to be…shoes. Now, this sounds like a cute enough, gentle enough satire of some women’s shoe obsessions – but what’s odd is that the book seems to ask readers to accept those obsessions as normal and as being, indeed, a primary source of emotional gratification. The lady sees gorgeous but expensive shoes, knows she cannot afford them, but listens to the shoes explain their superb fashion points and decides that she needs to give the store “ALL the MONEY she had” to get the shoes. In a fairy tale with a moral, this would turn out to be a bit of unfortunate vanity, in which the lady learned that the shoes did not bring her as much happiness as, say, her inner beauty. But here, the lady tries on the shoes and they “PINCH and…HURT the lady’s feet terribly.” The shoes tell her that “the pain we GIVE you is simply to remind you of our PRESENCE,” which is causing her “to shine and to DAZZLE.” So the lady accepts the shoes’ argument, wears the pinching, painful and expensive footwear – and feels complete for the first time in her life. Hurray!! (Well, is it hurray? Or is there something a little questionable here? Hmm?)

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