I won't go into the details of the plot here. The basic story line is that a young English woman, Genevieve, marries an American man, Robert, in order to escape the English countryside. In fact, on the day that they became engaged, Genevieve told Robert, "You have to get me away from here." They left England for Paris where Genevieve became a patron of the arts with the help of Robert's money. All the while, she had a secret. She became friends with Lulu of Montparnasse and met Paolo Zachari, whose customer she became. There is a lot more to it than that but I wanted to present a basic outline, without spoiling the book.
The book is very well written and the plot moves along easily for the reader despite being woven together with flashbacks. Throughout the book Anna Davis uses rich language to describe the events. Three examples or her use of language are below. Each quotation is taken from a different part of the book.
"Shoes connected a person to their world -- you walked in them, you danced in them. Without your shoes, you could barely step out of the house. The marks on their shoes were the outward sign of a lived life."
"This couch is not comfortable. That lamp is not bright. Your world is full of stupid, useless, expensive things."
"She was thinking about a game the little boy downstairs played if he saw you in the lift or the hallway. He thought that if he covered his eyes with his hands, he was hidden. He couldn't see you and therefore you couldn't see him. He as invisible. She wished she too could cover her eyes and vanish."
The book is full of contrasts. Paolo Zachari is everything that Robert is not. Zachari is passionate and creative but not dependable and he did not live the life of the wealthy. On the other hand, Robert was very dependable and wealthy but not passionate or creative. Similarly, Genevieve is also known as Vivi. Her friend Lulu is everything that Vivi is not. Lulu is very artsy and popular with the Left Bank crowd. Vivi tries hard to be a poet but ends up being more of a benefactor and hanger on.
Anna Davis' crafting of The Shoe Queen can also be seen in the book's structure. The novel is broken into eight parts: quarters, vamp, sole, collar, tongue, insole and heel. All of the section titles are parts of a shoe but all of them are used with a dual meaning. Quarters the shoe part or quarters the part of the city? Heel the back part of the shoe or heel the end of something?
I enjoyed the book very much. The vivid writing, the tight plot and the intriguing structure made it a very pleasant novel to read.