When to Walk by Rebecca Gowers

published 2007

[Mrs Shaw] clicked past me—she was wearing glinting red highheels—off the landing lino and onto our carpet tiles. She threw herself down on the sofa…

Within minutes we were walking down the street together. Well, I lolloped. She had changed into a different pair of heels, delicate green….

Mrs Shaw frowned at the grimy plates on the grimy table, shifted them to the washing-up bowl, threw away the orange peel and sat down. She’d put her ethereal green heels back on…

There was Mrs Shaw banging at the flat door. Annoyance hit me first, then the same diffuse mortification I’d felt knocking on hers. She was wearing yet another pair of heels, boots this time, patent….

Crossly I reflected that, myself, if I had run away from Bedford with one suitcase, I would not have packed hairspray, a hairdryer and three pairs of high-heeled shoes; although, if I’d run away from Bedford, who knows?

observations: My big complaint about this book would be that Mrs Shaw doesn’t feature enough: there should be a lot more of her. She is hilarious with her knowledge of petty crime and her interesting backstory and high heels, and she makes a great team with the very different and slightly precious Ramble, the narrator, as they swan around, worrying about the landlord and fixing the electric meter. (The hairspray and hairdryer are part of that activity.)

The book also features occasional photos, in a way reminiscent of both WG Sebald and Clothes in Books, so overall Gowers gets a bye – the book is somewhat self-indulgent (the long irrelevant letter her friend has asked her to edit?) and sometimes you want to shake the author and the narrator, but it has some very funny moments – the mother hoovering the lawn is excellent – and holds your interest. Gowers next book, The Twisted Heart, is better, though could do with Mrs Shaw to help out.

Links on the blog: Red shoes are important in Proust. The Consul’s wife wears high red shoes in Under the Volcano, and the Midwife claimed to wear 5” heels, though we don't really believe her.

The red shoes are a Wikimedia photo taken by Miss Otilia Luther, the pale green ones are by Yves Saint-Laurent, and the boots are by Jimmy Choo

For Liz W, who's saying 'what's wrong with Bedford?', and would be an ornament in nice shoes wherever she lived


  1. Moira - The hoovering the lawn bit got my attention right away. Little wonder you saw humour in this one. And I couldn't help but love those 'photos of shoes and boots. It's been a while since I went shoe shopping... ;-)


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