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Italian Shoes Hardcover – March 10, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 151 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Mankell continues to write literary fiction in addition to his popular crime series starring Swedish policeman Kurt Wallander. This time he tells the story of a lonely old man living alone on an isolated island. Why is former surgeon Fredrik Welin hiding on his grandparents’ island? Can anything break him loose from his self-imposed exile? These two questions guide this short, beautiful, and ultimately life-affirming novel, as first one woman and then another enter Fredrik’s island prison. It starts with Harriet, the girlfriend he abandoned more than 30 years before, who suddenly appears on the frozen bay clinging to a walker. Mankell’s Kurt Wallander readers will appreciate his use of the themes of decay and danger in modern Swedish society, here represented by the dying island communities and the algae-clogged Baltic Sea. This complex novel also addresses themes of redemption and self-understanding, similar to Mankell’s Eye of the Leopard (2008) and Kennedy’s Brain (2007). The premise and tone also suggest Norwegian author Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses (2007). Mankell’s increasing popularity makes this a good choice for all public libraries. --Jessica Moyer


"Mankell is a vivid and compelling storyteller" --This text refers to the Digital edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 247 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press (March 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595584366
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595584366
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,013,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. Bowden on May 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Not a mystery, Mankell fans! A very good, yet profoundly sad, novel about a man who has isolated himself against the world as much as possible over the past 12 years. The sudden, unexpected appearance of an old lover--the main love of his life, in fact--sets the narrator on a path that forces him to confront his past and himself. Often painful to read--the mistakes, the aversions, the lies, and betrayals common to every life--"Italian Shoes" nonetheless makes the case that it's never too late (the narrator is 66 years old) to atone for one's errors--however embarrassing and discomforting that may be. Only one shocking, unexpected act about 50 or 60 pages before the novel's end felt wrong, felt like a puzzling misstep on Mankell's part. But apart from that, for years Mankell's mysteries have transcended the genre; with "Italian Shoes" he goes headlong into "straight" fiction, albeit with the same fascination in characters troubled and intimidated by intimacy, yet in deep need of connection with others.
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Format: Hardcover
This standalone (of course it isn't a Wallander mystery) is a sad story and probably an allegory on what the author believes to be the deterioration of Swedish society and culture as well as the world's attitude toward the environment. While such a negative view is predominant, he does hold out some glimmer of hope.

Basically, the novel is the story of Frederick Welin, son of a "lowly" waiter who was able to rise in status through college and medical school and become a surgeon. While a young man, he had a torrid affair with a young woman who he abandoned without explanation. Years later, an error during an operation led to an official reprimand, a decision he could not accept, so he fundamentally quit life retiring to an island offshore where he lived with only a dog and a cat for company. Lethargy ruled his days, exemplified by a growing anthill in his living room, ignored by him as it slowly took over the area.

Then one day, after 11 years on the island, now 66, his former lover is seen standing on the ice, leaning on a walker. She's dying of cancer but forces him to face up to the present (and hopefully the future).

Written by a masterful writer, this is a tale of redemption and renewal. The use of Italian shoes as a symbol of what can be accomplished by painstaking craftsmanship gives rise to optimism in an otherwise sad but poignant tale. Recommended.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found myself deeply moved by "Italian Shoes". This is about a man who's unconsciously allowed his life to pass by and to have lost all opportunity at connection. He reflects on nothing. All blame is for others or explained and excused. His world is purely physical; walk; feed a pet, record the weather in a diary, repeat.

I would call it a "man-story"- the proto-man from Mars. It's a story about a man with such arrested development that his EQ is negative.

"You've never been a good person", she said. "You've always shrugged off your responsibilities". Fredrik Welin is a 66 year old former surgeon, now living almost as a hermit in a house inherited from his grandparents on a remote island. He is as emotionally remote as he is physically. He couldn't express his feelings even if he had any. He's created a routine of blithe diary entries, minimal care for an old dog and cat sprinkled with empty, superficial chatter with the mail man. It's a path of least resistance for a man who doesn't make choices or decisions but rather apathetically floats into a rudderless existence; aloof, spare, empty, unchallenged, detached and spiritless.

Then one day his past comes back with a visitor at his doorstep. He's reminded of prior misdeeds. He's not a criminal per se but a man that just didn't care and if that's had consequences than it's for others not Fredrik. All his success at suppressing his thoughts and compartmentalizing events, now fails him. He is slowly, agonizingly, coming to terms with the cost of missed opportunities. He is gripped with regret and knows his simplistic routines have ended but what comes next may not be up to him.
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Format: Paperback
I wanted to explore some Swedish fiction and was directd to Mankell. I had no expectations when I started The Italian Shoes. Other reviewers outline the story very well so I won't repeat that here.

I found the main character in the book very unappealing. It's hard to like him. He's an old slob of a man with little personality and little charm. However I am heartened by the fact he decides to get hs life together somewhat.

What could have been a tedious exercise of introspection is saved by the pace of the book. Mankell does not allow his characters to indulge in lengthy bouts of self examination, and for this I am grateful. The book strides along at a pace that compels one to continue reading - at times I would say it's almost too quick. Some scenes could have been fleshed out a little more. The arrival of the main character and Harriet at the pool in the forest was somewhat anticlimactic, I felt that Mankell could have done more with that setting.

Overall, this is a reasonable book worthy of reading. The pace and length of the book makes it a short diversion - most people should be able to finish it in a few days.
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