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About five years ago I read the novel 'Shadow of the Wind' by Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Whilst I can't remember everything about it off the top of my head, I do remember it being a brilliant story with great characters, a plot with twists that caught me off guard and a suspenseful narrative. In 2009, Zafon followed that book up with a prequel, 'The Angel's Game'. Since I enjoyed Zafon's first novel I thought about buying 'The Angel's Game' upon release, but after seeing some mixed reviews I decided to loan it from the library instead. In retrospect, this turned out to be the better approach.
David Martin is a struggling author living in an abandoned, mysterious mansion house in 1920s Barcelona. David writes stories for newspapers under the pseudonym Ignatius B. Sampson but dreams of publishing his own novel- if he can get the time and money first. Furthermore, the mystery of his rather gloomy abode and a doomed romance with Cristina Sagnier, the secretary of David's best friend and mentor Pedro Vidal, bring him very close to breaking point.
However, David then receives mysterious letters from a French publisher, Andreas Corelli. When the two finally meet in person Corelli, in exchange for a huge amount of money and promises of whatever David wishes, wants him to write him a book- one about the creation of a new religion. Yet as David gets himself deeper into his task, he soon discovers that there is connection with Corelli's request and the secrets of his home's former inhabitants. Can David discover the mystery and protect his friends before he gets embroiled in the same fate?
As with 'The Shadow of the Wind' I was hooked onto 'The Angel's Game' from the first page. Initially the story is very well-paced and Zafon's narrative (or the translator's skill) really hooks you in with both emotional and creepy moments. It is both a thriller and mystery novel as David tries to get to grips with the past owners of his mansion and how they relate to the project he has offered to do now. He presents post-WWI Barcelona, in David's own stories as well as his own first-person narrative as a beautiful, elegant city with a seedy underbelly.
David Martin is an excellent protagonist. He is very well developed with a troubled childhood - a mother who left him and a father who was at odds with his love for literature- and so many up-and-down moments in both his love life and writing career. There are moments where you really sympathize with him as he spirals further into despair, so then you want to him to 'get the girl'. The supporting characters are also vividly portrayed. Perhaps my favourites were the bookshop owner Senor Sempere- a character who acts as a father figure to Martin, and the feisty aspiring writer Cristina, who joins a rather reluctant David for inspiration at his house.
Unfortunately, while the first two acts are well-written enough to keep me reading for hours, I was very disappointed with the third and final part of the story for a couple of reasons. First of all, from about the halfway point several characters Martin die for reasons related to his project and his investigation into the demise of the former owners. The first couple of deaths were moments that really catch you off guard in the novel, but by the climax so many supporting characters have perished and their deaths just felt dull, leaving little impact. Some characters are only introduced to us in person once to solely give Martin their bits of exposition to the mystery- and then kick the bucket!
Furthermore, during the climax David's investigation became very confusing. As I've said, Zafon sometimes had Martin search for people with no preamble as to who it was until they answered/he broke down the door. With plot twists and deaths in almost every other chapter, I found myself getting confused as to whom David was chasing, why so-and-so was following him, and who was real and who was actually someone else, etc. Generally, this section felt anti-climatic as the final showdown finishes quickly and, to me, didn't seem relevant or tie up some of the loose ends at that point.
Nevertheless, the ending itself managed to cover some of the patches and, although I still felt a little confused as to the course of the past few chapters, it was very bittersweet as we find Martin has a price to pay.
'The Angel's Game' is a good novel, but definitely not as strong as its predecessor. That said, it has more good points than bad points and I'd still recommend it if you've read 'Shadow of the Wind' first (though if you haven't read that first even though this is a prequel; it's excellent!). Just don't expect to be completely blown away by this offering. Hopefully Zafon's third novel in the 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books series' will be an improvement and I look forward to buying it...well, looking for an actual hard copy in the library. :(
I've given the book 3.5 stars out of 5, but have it rounded it to 4 here.
(Review also on ciao under the username Anti_W and my blog 'Tales of Antonia').
I first read Carlos Ruiz Zafon's work a few years ago when I read his book Shadow Of The Wind which soon became one of my favourite books of all time for it was so gripping. When I saw that he had written more I couldn't wait to get stuck in and read!
This book is translated but I don't find that this has any negative affect upon how it reads at all, you forget that it is and become lost in what is happening. I know some books which are translated are a little hesitant but that is not the case with this one.
The book takes you through the life of Martin and who is a writer. It first introduces him when he is a teenager trying to find a way to work and learn within the writing environment. It is set in the early 1920s in Barcelona so it is at a time when the city is full of trouble. Martin struggles to support himself after his father has been murdered but with the help of the people who work at his local newspaper press he is able to work and find opportunities.
The story documents the dramatic turns of this writer's life. How he falls in love and suffers from a terrible case of unrequited love and friends who seem to betray him.
Just like in Shadow Of The Wind, Sempere, the local bookseller, introduces Martin to the cemetery of forgotten books where a new world is revealed to him which causes him to be wary of the strange happenings.
A mysterious stranger contacts Martin with an offer which seems too good to be true. Martin simply cannot turn it down and feels as though he is being drawn into this offer despite feeling apprehensive about it. The mysterious stranger is most odd and seems to have special powers. Since being pulled in to this deal Martin notices many bizarre and frightening events occuring in his life but he feels unable to control them or to get out of the contract.
What I found about this book is that there are many, many elements occurring all at once. The themes include the ability to survive, complicated friendships, unrequited love, magic, deceit and several others and so whilst reading this I felt a bit like I was trying to keep on top of many angles and so could only pick this book up when I was feeling alert enough to concentrate properly.
The depths in this book are so intense with so much happening that I found many questions were left unanswered at the end. Many things happened which were very odd but there was never any explanation as to what caused them and why. Such as why did a prostitute give Martin the business card of the mysterious stranger but then the next day Martin found out that the prostitute had never existed. What exactly had happened then? Was it a dream? but how did he physically have the card? Was it some kind of magic? But if so then why was this never explained? I was left guessing with so many events but I kept thinking that all would become clear in some big reveal in the end.
There was no big reveal at the end, in fact, the ending was the most confusing part of all. After a huge build up and quite tense few chapters the ending disappointed me hugely as I was left wondering what on earth the entire book had been about.
The mysterious stranger is odd. I wondered if he was an 'angel' or 'spirit' of some form which would explain why he seemed to know what Martin was thinking and could arrange to just pop up at any time but then this was never confirmed or not and his history also never made sense or was explained either it was just left hanging.
I sound as though I am really criticising this book and I am not I am just disappointed because it could have been so much better if it wasn't so complex that various strands of thought seemed to go without explanations, even huge themes in the book were left hanging.
What was brilliant about this book was the way in which people were described, the characterisation of the main characters was fantastic. I did feel as though I knew Martin very well by the end of the book and could understand his feelings towards the book seller who had helped him and various other people in his life. He was very well constructed as was the way the mysterious stranger was described and created. I did feel quite uncomfortable and unsure of the stranger right from the beginning and so it just reflects Zafon's amazing ability to create characters.
There were several parts of the book which left me unable to put it down and I just had to keep on reading wanting to find out what was happening. This was partly because I was left confused by some occurences and was hoping that Zafon would explain them but also because there are several parts of intense drama which were captivating.
The book was quite slow to get into and I think had I not have read Zafon's work before I may have been tempted to give it up but I had faith, knowing that Zafon had wowed me with his previous work I was expecting him to do so again. Once you reach the half way mark it really picks up speed and lots of events happen making it so difficult to put the book down but also it was quite difficult to keep track of what was happening and to make sense of them.
The book is quite mysterious, you don't know who people are, whether events that he documents are real, whether there is magic or spirits at work, whether his friends meant to betray him or if it was just an accident and at the end you are still left wondering what exactly it was all about which is a shame as I found it very frustrating. Perhaps that was what Zafon wanted or perhaps I have just not understood the concept of the book at all, I am unsure.
I have now passed the book on to my brother in the hope that he will read it and then explain to me all the questions I have about it. I'm hoping he has answers as I'm left feeling as though I did not understand the concept at all.
I am disappointed by this book because I did really enjoy Shadow Of The Wind. I was hoping this would be equally as good but it definitely isn't. I do not enjoy finishing a book feeling as though I haven't understood what on earth happened and wishing it had a note section at the back explaining what exactly it was about. There is a reading group section at the back but this isn't anything but discussion points.
I would give this less stars than I have but I did actually enjoy reading it and found it gripping at points and very well described. It is just a shame that upon completing it I felt as though I had lost the main message of this story and perhaps Zafon had concentrated too much on describing scenes which were unnecessary instead of keeping it a clear plot which I could follow.
So in terms of building up a scene and characters, fear and tension then Zafon has done himself proud but in terms of creating a story which leaves you feeling amazed and pleased that you have read it then I am afraid he has let me down.
I'm unsure as to whether I recommend this or not. If you have read it and understood it perhaps you can explain it to me?
The Angel's Game by Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon is set in the same 20th century Barcelona as The Shadow of the Wind, an earlier book by the same author. I Shadow of the Wind quite a while ago, when it came out in English I think, so although I didn't really remember it I did remember I enjoyed the story and so wanted to read another by the same author. The Angel's Game was only £3.99 on amazon, so with it being so cheap I thought, where can I go wrong?
David Martin is a young aspiring writer living in Barcelona and working without much hopes of ever getting published, for a local newspaper. However, one day his editor calls him to his office to offer him an ongoing section where he can publish something of his own, all being that it's got to be some kind of trashy crime thriller. And so David gets published. He soon gets a new contract writing a series of crime books for a local publishing house and the years pass. Not much changed in his life, he remains friends with only Pedro Vidal, a man who worked with him at the newspaper and the owner of a local bookstore, Sempere and Sons. Things start to change for David when he gets an offer from a man working for a French publishers, Andreas Corelli. He is asks to write a new religion for an incredible sum of money, which he can hardly turn down. He soon finds the men he previously had a contract with have died in a fire, along with his contact, leaving him to be able to write for whomever he wishes. He becomes suspicious of Corelli and starts to investigate him. He can discover no
Parisian publishing house and finds another man who received a similar commission as David who died years earlier, and who happened to live in the same house as David. More investigating unearths more chilling answers and David begins to suspect that there is something to entirely natural about his boss.
The book starts of generally interesting and promising. David is an interesting character and is well introduced, you genuinely wonder what the world is going to have in store for him. He is hopelessly in love with the daughter of his decidedly richer friend Vidals driver, a love interest which is set up from the start which you wonder how it will work out. A young apprentice called Isabella soon turns up who goes to live with David, hoping he will teach her how to write. However, the book changes drastically as soon as David meets Andreas Corelli and becomes involved with writing a new religion. I can see that the book is written so that the reader is eased into this new direction slowly, but I didn't actually think this worked too well. The beginning of the book is just too long, so that you get too used to it being a 'normal' story, I felt that the ending was so different from the start of the book that if they were read separately one could easily mistake them from being totally different books. The story also distracts himself from David, his character is built up well but then seems to be forgotten. He is effected to the events which follow, but the book doesn't go very far into how he is, the characterisation just seems rather shallow.
The book soon becomes a mystery, as David tried to find clues and the people who may something about Andreas Corelli and the book he previously commissioned to be written. This leads him all over Barcelona, a city which I thought was described with a very sparse amount of detail. So ok, this is a book by a Spanish author, one could assume that perhaps Spanish people wouldn't need too much detail, they'd already know what the city was like. But I went to Barcelona for a week just a couple of months ago and even I struggled with the descriptions of the places visited. For a complete stranger to Barcelona I don't think they would get a true feel of what the city was really like, let alone what it would have been like around 100 years ago. Saying that, there is a sense of mystery and some kind of supernatural 'something' that lies underneath the story which doesn't go away. Barcelona feels like a city where anything and everything seems possible.
As David beings to interview more people about the past and about Andreas Corelli things become more sinister, especially when people start dying left right and centre. The first couple of times it was a shock, and you wonder what was going on and why. But as they get more frequent it seems a bit pointless and silly. Towards the end it kind of felt like it was just easier to kill off as many characters as possible than to actually come up with any solid kind of finish.
There seem to be a lot of random lose ends in this book which make it quite confusing, for example David tried to find his mother who left his dad when he was young. He does find her, and thinks about her a lot, but he does absolutely nothing about this and it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the story. It does in general feel like an uncomplicated and easy read. You certainly don't have to think too much about it, and overall I thought it was quite a forgettable book that I wont be keeping in case I wanted to read it a second time. By the end of the book I still wasn't too sure what happened, it didn't tie up lose ends or follow through the events it had been leading up to. I've read some quite good reviews of this books, so I suppose to some people it's great, it just can't be for me. I thought it was overall a pretty average book with nothing terribly special about it, with rather shallow descriptions and characterisations.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon's new book "The Angels Game" is the long anticipated follow up to the smash success of "The Shadow of the Wind", a book set in Barcelona after the Spanish civil war focussing on a boy called Daniel who is intent on finding an author of a book he has chosen from the "Cemetery of Forgotten Books." It feels like ages since I read "the Shadow of the Wind" and although I'm struggling to remember the details of it, I knew that I loved every minute of it, and therefore I couldn't wait to get into this one.
Once again the story returns the reader to the Cemetery of Forgotten books where a lot of the action in "The Shadow of The Wind" took place. Although this time, the cemetery isn't quite a central feature as it became in the previous book, but the author sticks to what he knows best, weaving a story full of intrigue, murder, obsession and above all literature.
I was unsure how to start of this review, as although I did enjoy this book overall, it really does pale in comparison to "The Shadow of the Wind", and after browsing a few other internet reviews, I can see that many other readers had the same problem.
Once again we are taken back to Barcelona, this time during the 1920's and 30's where the story involves the life and weird experience of David Martin, a budding writer who literally takes refuge in the world of books and writing. David receives a letter from Andreas Corelli; a French publisher who wishes to employ him to write a book that he is sure Martin will not be able to turn down - one that will quite literally create a new religion. Once Martin is engaged in writing the book for Corelli, he finds himself in something deeper than expected, his households many secrets and he finds that the past occupant of the house, his publisher and his book seem inexplicably linked. He slowly becomes obsessed with this writing, with the secrets held in the house and the mystery surrounding Andreas Corelli himself.
First off, I was pleased to see the return of Barcelona as the setting, having visited Barcelona and seen some of its history and architecture, it really is one of those places which could inspire any writer and is the perfect backdrop for a gothic mystery. Even if you haven't visited Barcelona, Zafon is a master storyteller and is superb at creating a eery scene, making it easy for the reader to vividly picture the setting for this story.
After being initially excited at the prospect of delving further into the story, I found myself becoming impatient when almost half way through this book, I didn't feel that the story had moved on enough. By this point, I felt that I had more than a good handle on David Martin, his awful childhood and his need to write, but I also felt t that the book was coming to a close in the way it was going - and I really didn't care at that point what happened to the main character.
I do not want to spoil it for other readers, but early on in the book we discover that Martin is extremely ill and is unlikely to survive - and although most will realise he must survive as there is half of the book to go, it almost felt like the author had wound the book down too much. There is nothing fun in reading about a dying man who has no friends and no energy to do anything, so I was on the verge of giving up altogether at this point!
Luckily, the second half of the book picked up pace, and happily for me, the mystery and intrigue returned to the book. David Martin's personality came back and breathed life into a story which was quite literally dying!
I find it quite impossible to describe this book any further; it's quite dark and also extremely confusing! At the end of the book, I wasn't quite sure what happened, and I'm still puzzling that out now! I'm pretty sure it would be impossible for most readers to suss out what was going on behind all the mystery in this book which of course can only be a good thing! Possibly this is because it has more to do with the fact that this book mixes a lot of religious and magical themes, so I felt unable to pin point what was real and what was fake throughout the book. There are a lot of things left unexplained, some details are mentioned towards the end of the book which didn't quite make sense...but it all added to the mystery of the story!
However, I can imagine that most people will find the lack of answers either just confusing or plain frustrating - if you fall into these categories, then this book is probably not for you! I would say that the contents of the book, the supernatural elements etc are there so that they can be open to interpretation.
Overall, this is a good follow up to "The Shadow of the Wind". It must be difficult to follow up such a successful book, especially since Zafon has used the same setting and some of the same themes - it will always be compare because of it. I really commend Zafon for attempting something slightly different with this though with all its magical elements, I think he just about pulled it off purely by how vague the book was left at the end. This is a book to make you think and speculate and not to hand you the answers on a plate, much like life I suppose! The Angels Game is just that - a game that the author is playing with the reader... A clear explanation probably wouldn't have worked, but if anyone has one, I'd love to hear it!
A couple of years ago I was lent a copy of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind. Taking up the advice, I read it, and was immediately drawn into the author's portrayal of Barcelona across the 20th Century, as his lead character pursued a literary quest among the dark and sinister streets, and discovered the mysterious Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
Entranced, it was with bated breath that I awaited the translation of the prequel, The Angel's Game, and my wife treated me to it as a a birthday present earlier this year. I have recently finished reading it, and whereas Shadow of the Wind was a slow and relaxing book to read, Angels' Game took ages to get going and was more a laborious effort that ended up taking a lot longer than it should have done.
We start off being taken on a scene setting few chapters where Zafon introduces us to a very young David Martin, budding novelist. We then spend the first hundred and something pages as we see David mature through ill fate until he meets a mysterious stranger who commissions him to write a very strange and mysterious, religious based tale, started long ago and needing that extra something special to finish it off.
Where Zafon's magic lies is within the magic that he creates in the reader's mind as to the surroundings. The Barcelona he paints with his words is a wonderful and mysterious place, and the characters he places therein are intriguing beyond belief. However, he spends far too long setting the scene, and it is not until the second half of the book that things get rolling a bit quicker. By this time, the pace of the proceedings makes it hard to put the book down, and moments of genius that relate well to Shadow of the Wind come back in quick reminiscence.
The characters are also quite magical, from the extremely vivid lead David Martin to the ladies in his life, such as Cristina and Isabella, and of course Sempere, the owner of the bookshop that is one of the major links between this book and Shadow. Part of the lengthy intro does serve to introduce us to these people and establish them firmly in our minds, creating such reality that it is a wonder we never knew them before reading the book. I found that these characters were really vivid and I thought this was one of the strongest displays on literary characterisation I have ever experienced.
However, the problem still lies with the time it takes to get through the book. Shadow took a while to get to the end, but I was riveted, and hung on every written word. Angel took equally as long, but it wasn't nearly as intriguing and interesting. As far as prequels go, it does have a bit of a link that becomes rather apparent right at the end, and in this respect it is very cleverly woven in, but as I have already said, it's the getting there that is a bit of a pain.
Zafon manages to interweave a bit of the suggested supernatural in his storytelling, and despite most things having foundation in plausability, he dangles the spooky carrot quite well, creating creepy characters with no existing record, and photos of some who don't seem to have aged in 30 years. This element adds to the drama somewhat, as does the general saga-style of the book's main plot: that of David's quest to write the accursed book!
Overall, it's a book I am glad to have read. I made the mistake of hanging on every word from the start, as this is what my experience of Shadow of the Wind suggested I should do. However, retrospect shows me that although the first half of the book is great for painting a really vivid picture of everything in your mind, you don't need to let every word sink in as much as you may think. Don't skim read, but there's no need to read between the lines to start with, either.
I do recommend The Angel's Game, but only if you have plenty of time and are a fan of books that can take a while to get going. It is great for scene setting, but I really would have liked to have seen a number of pages less and a bit of quicker development than I got. Recommended, but don't expect it to be a quick read, by any means.
Back in 2005, I read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón for the first timw, and I was captivated. I read it in Spanish and English, and found it worked just as well in both although was better in the original Spanish. I actually had a very strange sense of déjà vu when starting it in Spanish, until I realised that the opening pages had been the translation passage in my final exams at uni - even that didn't spoil my enjoyment of the novel!
So it was with great excitement that I heard of Ruiz Zafón's new novel, The Angel's Game, earlier this year. It was only out in hardback and I was a bit strapped for cash, so I ordered it from my local library. A few months later (which seems to be quite speedy for the library) I got an email telling me it was waiting to be picked up...
Like The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel's Game is set in Barcelona, this time in the 1920s. It features the Sempere & Sons bookshop, and the Cemetery of Forgotton Books. The main character this time is David Martín, a writer living a reclusive life in an abandoned mansion in Barcelona.
Ruiz Zafón's writing is just as beautiful as it was in The Shadow of the Wind. His descriptions are minutely detailed and really pull you into the world of 1920s Barcelona, so much so that you can almost reach out and touch it, smell it, feel it. He has an amazing way with words where everything seems to come to life from the page. I was able to build a very vivid picture of the settings of The Angel's Game from his writing, and although most of us do that with everything we read, there is more to it with Ruiz Zafón because his descriptions are so clear.
In addition to the physical descriptions of people and places, Ruiz Zafón is a master at setting the mood. There isn't anything really scary in his novels, but I was creeped out several times while reading The Angel's Game, and previously The Shadow of the Wind. Sometimes this was when there was something very everyday happening, but the style in which the event was written implied there could be more to it. Similarly, his protagonists often suffer through great emotional pain, and this is conveyed heart rendingly, yet with very few words. David loves someone he cannot be with, but he doesn't agonise over it for pages and pages (the novel is in the first person). The few words he does say on it, or the glimpses of her from afar, are more than sufficient to convey his pain.
The story is, in many ways, very similar to The Shadow of the Wind. The writer, the recluse, the old mansion, the buried secrets, the lost love, the great literary works - it is all present in both novels, just used and tied to together in different ways. The story of The Angel's Game is very good, and should involve the reader thoroughly. So why did I find it so hard to get into?
I loved The Shadow of the Wind. I was really looking forward to reading The Angel's Game. But I was halfway through the novel before I started picking it up out of enjoyment and not from a sense of duty, of persevering because surely I should be loving it. It wasn't that I wasn't enjoying it at first, I just couldn't get caught up in it and want to keep turning the pages. Even once I did get past the perseverance stage, I didn't get as pulled in as I had with the previous novel. I really struggled to get to the point where I was reading the novel for pleasure, and I never reached the point of not wanting to put it down.
I love Ruiz Zafón's writing, he is in fact one of the authors whose styles I most admire and who I wish I could write like. I enjoyed the story of The Angel's Game. But there was something just not right, that stopped me from getting involved like I had with The Shadow of the Wind. Perhaps I had built up The Angel's Game and was expecting so much of it that I just couldn't relax and enjoy the book. Perhaps it was an anticlimax. I think this is most likely - I've done that before, one example being I love Kate Mosse's Labyrinth so much that the follow up, Sepulchre, could never be as good.
I would recommend this, whether or not you have read The Shadow of the Wind - as it is not a sequel, just a follow up which features a few of the same characters and locations, there is no need. I will say though, that if you have read it and loved it like I did, don't make the same mistake I did and build up The Angel's Game to a status it just can't live up to, or you might find yourself like me, and not managing to get into it at all.
For many people, Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon snuck into the English literary world a couple of years ago, with his highly atmospheric and deeply moving The Shadow of the Wind. Two years later, he's back with the thematically similar The Angel's Game.
Zafon's skill as a writer comes from combining seemingly strange, possibly supernatural events with a highly evocative account of life in Spain at the start of the 20th century. This merging of fiction and reality is difficult to pull off convincingly, but Zafon achieves it with ease, proving giving him the freedom to take his plot in whatever direction he wishes, whilst always grounding it in the reality of Spanish society.
The Angel's Game follows the struggles of aspiring writer, David Martin. When he is hired to write a religious work for a mysterious French publisher, he thinks his worries are over. In fact, they are just beginning.
Thematically, The Angel's Game is very similar to The Shadow of the Wind. It mixes suspense and mystery with a tale of an individual's struggle to live his own life. It is a compelling story of lost love, loyal friendships and deadly secrets. For readers of Zafon's earlier work, the tone and style is instantly recognisable, occupying a similar timeframe and even featuring some of the locations and characters from the first book. You could almost accuse Zafon of plagiarising himself and failing to come up with any new ideas for his follow-up novel. In fact, the degree of overlap is handled very well. For new readers, it is the setting and style which are similar, not the content; there is no need to have read the first book before this, since it is not a sequel as such. If you have read Shadow, you will immediately feel comfortable and familiar with the Barcelona in which Martin lives and works.
Technically, Zafon is a hugely accomplished writer, often evoking the style of other authors, whilst always maintaining his own distinctive voice. In particular, his novels are very reminiscent of the writings of Charles Dickens. His books have a slightly old-fashioned, Victorian feel, which sets them apart from most other modern literature. This style perfectly suits the slightly old-fashioned feel to the storyline and the period in which the book is set.
Zafon creates such a strong sense of time and place that the reader genuinely feels they are being transported back to early 20th Century Barcelona. Incredibly, he achieves this with only minimal reference to actual historical events - you certainly don't need to be an expert on Spain to place this book in context. It is all done through feeling and insinuation, through establishing so believable an atmosphere that you never for one minute doubt that this is what life used to be like.
Ironically, it is this ultra-real setting which allows Zafon to get away with some plot ideas which, under normal circumstances, would seem preposterous. The plot builds very slowly and always feels real within the context of the setting Zafon has defined. Only towards the end do things fall apart slightly, as though the author isn't quite sure how to end it. It loses a little focus and much of the atmosphere which it has worked so hard to establish leaks away, leading to an ending which is slightly disappointing and generic.
The realistic setting is backed up by highly believable characters. Each of the main characters is fully fleshed out and has their own life to lead. Each has their own worries, their own biases, their own fears, and the reader can identify with, and feel concern for all of them. He invests a huge amount of effort and emotion in his characters and this pays off for the reader. You sympathise with each of them. When someone dies, you feel sad both for them and the relatives they leave behind; when someone is in danger, you are genuinely worried for their safety. Rarely in modern literature does a reader get the opportunity to invest so much emotionally in a set of characters and it's a very welcome change.
The relations between the various characters all ring true, as well. Characters form loyal friendships, have arguments with each other, keep secrets and feel deep concern for each other. Friendships break down over both trivial and small matters and loyalties are stretched to the limit by events. The actions of one impact on the lives of others, whether knowingly or not and can have significant consequences.
If all this sounds a little heavy, there is a lighter side to the book too. As with Shadow, Zafon demonstrates a slightly mischievous sense of humour. His turn of phrase is often delightful and will cause you to smile, whilst some of the verbal sparring between characters is genuinely amusing, whilst also revealing the hidden and conflicting emotions the characters feel towards each other.
If there is a downside to The Angel's Game it is that the style will not be to everyone's taste. The concentration on characters and setting does mean that the book is fairly slow moving. It is almost 450 pages long, yet a huge amount of that is spent on establishing an atmosphere of mystery, rather than anything concrete actually happening. In some regards, the actual plot takes up only a relatively small part of the text. If you like your books fast-paced with regular plot developments building up to an explosive finish, then this is probably not one you will enjoy. If, on the other hand, you value evocative settings, believable characters and beautifully crafted prose, then you should pick up a copy of The Angel's Game at the first opportunity.
A slight lack of originality hampers Ruiz's second major work. There is a sense of déjà vu, a feeling that this is Shadow of the Wind with different characters and a change in the emphasis of the plot. Arguably, Zafon is in danger of plagiarising himself and a third book in a similar vein may just be one step too far. For people who value real literature, though, The Angel's Game is a must-read.
The Angel's Game
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2009
© Copyright SWSt 2009