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Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
First Published: 2001 (Spanish), 2004 (English)
At ten years old, Daniel stumbles upon a novel in the 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books', but his book, 'The Shadow of the Wind,' by Julián Carax, draws a lot of attention from those around him. Daniels undertakes the challenge of discovering more about the unknown author, but his investigation leads to deadly consequences.
When Daniel becomes ten years old, his father reveals to him the 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books,' the place where books are taken to after the closing of a library or a publisher warehouse. Books are saved from disappearing by the cemetery. Daniel is allowed to pick one book from his visit and he chooses 'The Shadow of the Wind' by Julián Carax, or rather, it chooses him.
Fascinated by the novel and its mysterious author, Daniel embarks on a journey to unravel the secret history of the author, and his sudden departure from Barcelona to Paris in his teenage years. Daniel encounters numerous people on his journey to the truth, makes life-long friends and even falls in love. But some of the acquaintances he makes aren't quite so friendly. When his life and the lives of his loved ones become threatened, Daniel realises that the mysterious Julián Carax had a darker side, and Daniel isn't the only one looking for him...
I was really excited to read this novel, as I had heard so much praise for it and the concept seemed exactly up my street. However, once I started reading it, I found it incredibly difficult to engage with. The main characters in the novel are male, and extremely difficult to get along with. Something about them jarred with me, to the point when I didn't care what they did or why. I think it was because the men seemed egotistic and irrational. At the same time, the majority of the women are equally arrogant and difficult.
Not only did I find the characters impossible to understand, but the plot was also equally incomprehensible. The narrative is dragged out over such a long period of time; you begin to lose track and faith in its progression. The trickles of information that are released to you are sparse and frustrating, as there is nothing to draw you in and really compel you to unravel the whole story.
The novel did have its good points however, there are some beautiful phrases used, which is why I have chosen so many favourite quotes. The ending of the novel (if you get that far) is also fantastic, and almost made me forget the struggle I had reading the plot. The last twenty-five pages completely transformed my opinion of the whole book, but at the same time, I still wish some revelation of its kind had come slightly earlier, so reading the first 450 pages didn't feel so painful.
Ultimately, this book has me torn. After feeling completely disheartened and not even wanting to pick it up some days, the ending of the novel does make the slog worth it, however, with the book being so bulky, I fear that some people may give up before they get there. I was most disappointed with the fact that the plot had a lot of potential, but something in it was lacking. I eventually settled on a score of six out of ten, but up until the last few pages it was dwindling at a three. I'm really upset that I didn't like this one and even though it has been a popular book, it just wasn't one for me.
Favourite Quotes: 'I followed my father through that narrow lane, more of a scar than a street...' (p. 2)
'As it unfolded, the structure of the story reminded me of one of those Russian dolls that contain innumerable diminishing replicas of themselves inside. Step by step, the narrative split into thousands of stories, as if it had entered a gallery of mirrors, its identity fragmented into endless reflections.' (pp. 5-6)
'...a story is a letter the author writes to himself, to tell himself things that he would be unable to discover otherwise.' (p. 459)
About the book
The Shadow of the Wind is the first book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It was first published in 2001 and the book is 528 pages long.
Barcelona, 1945-just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother's face. To console his only child, Daniel's widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona's guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel's father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiralling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax's work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last one in existence. Before Daniel knows it his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona's darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love. And before long he realizes that if he doesn't find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.
What I thought
The Shadow of the Wind is one of my boyfriend's favourite books - he likes it so much that he has multiple copies of it. As he loves it so much, I was curious to know why so he got me my own copy and I began to read it straight away.
It didn't take long for this book to take a hold of me and not let go. The opening to this story is completely magical and mysterious and I loved each word that I was reading. As a young boy, main character Daniel is taken to Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his father. This is a place for forgotten books of the world just waiting for someone to care for them again and the idea of this is what initially got me hooked. If it's possible, I felt sorry for all of the books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and wanted to go and get them all new homes. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books itself was a bit like a dream to me but somewhere I would have definitely wanted to be able to visit myself. What young Daniel doesn't know at the time of picking his one book here, is that he has just determined the rest of his life with this choice.
As a young boy, Daniel was extremely naive and didn't know much about the world at all but I liked that about him. He had a very sweet innocence about him and it made me look forward to finding out how he would eventually grow up and what kind of a man he would turn in to. As the story begins to unfold, we get to learn of the book Daniel picked, The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. The book itself brings Daniel instant problems as he is confronted by a strange man seemingly willing to do anything to get his hands on this particular book. The character in question here was extremely creepy and you could just tell that you didn't want him to turn up again. At this point, it was so clear just how young Daniel was because of his actions but he also stuck to what he believed in and I respected him for that.
Finding out more about why this book was so important was what I was desperate for. The Shadow of the Wind not only explores the life of Daniel and what he goes through, the relationships he forms and things he experiences but it also has flashbacks from other characters. As well as following Daniel's life in Barcelona, we follow the mysterious life of author Carax, trying to figure out if he is even alive or where he could possibly be. I really enjoyed how both worlds were intertwined, which was partly helped by Daniel's constant need to know more about the book and the author. His passion for the subject shone through and so did his determination. Due to his mission of finding out more about Carax, Daniel changes as a character. He meets many interesting characters along the way, each of which have some kind of impact on his life and the way he views things. The way that these people could have such a big impression on Daniel quite impressed me because it wasn't as though any of them were anything spectacular.
A slight problem with these other characters is that there are so many of them and if you're not careful, you could lose sight of who is who and what they are doing. If you picked up this book and put it down again for some time, you would quite easily forget everything you have previously read. That aside, some of these characters were more entertaining and special than both Daniel and Carax. One of my favourites was Fermin Romero De Torres, a beggar that Daniel meets on the street one day. He soon becomes quite a big role in Daniel and Carax's story but he also brings in some much needed humour. As a bit of a broken man, Fermin is not quite all there which is why he is so funny. He comes out with all kinds of strange things that don't always make sense but this is what makes him so different compared with everyone else in this book.
When it comes to the plot, it was not quite what I was expecting, although I'm not sure what that was either really. This book was a complete surprise for me, a big part of that is due to it being an adult book. I have spent so long reading YA that this is completely different from my normal read but I loved it completely. The plot is complicated, as I'm sure you could guess from the amount of characters, but it never gets too confusing. Each different thing is kind of put into its own little section then forgotten about again once you find out everything that you need to know. This makes the pacing quite strange and not extremely fast but it does make for a very interesting read. Shadow of the Wind is not only a mystery though and I found myself feeling all kinds of emotions while I read it. I felt love, excitement, anger and I also cried at one point when I didn't think that this was that kind of book.
I can now see why my boyfriend loves this book so much and now I will treasure my own copy. I also cannot wait to start on the sequel, The Angel's Game and the third book when it is released at the end of the year.
This book did literally leave me wanting more and so i went ahead and bought another of his. I could not put it down the more i read the more i wanted to find out what happens next. I wont say too much incase you are intending on buying it and so as not to spoil the story but there is a fantastic twist to it, which for me was totally unexpected. It is a story full of mystery and had me enchanted, the detail is so fine you can almost smell the streets of spain in the mists of the morning and picture every minute of the story as if watching a film as the descriptive words flow smoothly. It actually makes you wander in in thought and awe at the power a book can have in story and in literal terms.
Fate, time, mystery and romance all in one and in the perfect city Barcelona! Although the story is at an extreme throughout and everything is back to front, every usual stereotyped character is an opposite, 'prostitutes seem sweethearts and homeless men heroes' says it all, but this is what gives the book its charm and thats what makes fairytale. The story does seem to go on on never actually unravelling as anticaption over rides but it holds such a grip on you as the curiousity of human nature leaves you wanting more, you carry on to read and you find yourself on the edge of your seat and as you lift your head you realise your sat in the dark and havent moved for hours...
I really just don't get this book.
On other review sites I've heard the same thing: the idea of the story lures you in, but leaves you wanting. Having read the blurb, I thought this would be something like Borges or Calvino. It talks about mysterious books and labyrinthine libraries, set in post Civil War Spain.
Maybe I should have just read the blurb and left it at that. The book is full of completely ridiculous characters, from the woman who the protagonist likes (a blind pianist; the engaged sister of a friend), to some of the men (Daniel's father, who, despite living and working with the protagonist, rarely gets a mention; his seemingly best friend who is picked up after being a beggar, then randomly takes a keen interest in the protagonist's wild goose chase), to the historic figures (the former-slave ghost just being one of them).
The metaphors are clunky, the dialogues full of cliches, and the characters far too numerous to get a decent grasp of what's actually going on. I suppose one of the positives is that it's a fairly light read, and spans 500 odd pages, which keeps one busy for a while. Also, there's a few questions and essay matters in the back of the book for the budding student of the book.
Perhaps it's my fault for assuming it could be something like Borges- but Borges, to my knowledge, never had a review printed on the inside of the book by Trinny & Susannah.
This isn't my type of book. Generally novels set between the 1920s-1990s spark little interest, the only reason why I bothered to read it was because it was suggested that it might be something I'd like. That doesn't happen very often especially when it was recommended by a librarian. I've been going up to our local one regularly since I was in primary school and it's the only time I've ever remembered any of them actually speak to me!
The Shadow of the Wind written by Carlos Ruis Zafon, was released in 2001 and is a worldwide bestseller. If I'm honest I'd never even heard of it or the author despite how appreciated it has become over the years. It is all set in Barcelona, which is given vivid descriptions of places that he has obviously been to, it being his home city.
When a young boy at the age of 10 is taken by his Father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books he thinks nothing of any dangers which could lie ahead when he picks up a novel by Julian Carax. Not realizing that this book is very rare and a lot of the authors other stories have mysteriously been destroyed..
After a man approaches him offering a wealthy amount of money for the book he instantly dismisses the idea. Something which he may learn to regret when crime officers appear to be following him, people who he has visited when investigating the possible death of the author are found murdered soon afterwards and villains entering his life who want to destroy any recollection there may be of past events. However it isn't that easy when you have a growing teenager and an ex-tramp on the case.
I'd never of thought that a novel about a man wanting to destroy a book could really capture my interest. It isn't something which I could ever of imagined would make a good story. The fact is though there is such a wide variety of topics and subjects involved it is quite impossible to not be drawn into this world of death and illnesses which at the time present have no cure. Some of the events which happen seem inconceivable when concerning family lives and it's as if time is repeating itself.
The actual characters are so vast that at times you do struggle as to who is who, especially when their names become so similar and the life of Daniel Sempere mirrors Julian Carax. In a way they are simply clones of one another. Even both of their Fathers have similar personalities and ways of lives.
I got the impression that Zafron put a lot on effort into giving each character a story behind them. One which can appear from nowhere and not be something you'd expect. It is as if all of them have skeletons in the closet which they have tried for so long to keep hidden and then all it takes is a few probing questions before everything is opened up, causing more trouble than it's worth.
Despite it's simple plot line there is a lot of different genres you could put this novel into. Mystery, romance, thriller or horror, period, tragedy. A real variety is given to you and it's unlikely that you won't find a bit of it enjoyable to read.
This isn't a funny or amusing book although at times you will get the odd quote which could make you smile. Most of which come from a hard done by tramp who Daniel gives a new lease of life when he helps to get him employed in his Fathers bookshop.
Overall this does have something for most people to enjoy. Having a total of 506 pages plus authors notes there is a lot to get through, especially as it is in small print. This shouldn't deter you though as it is fast paced and there are plenty of different events to keep up with. At times it can get a bit confusing as the chapters are not all narrated by Daniel and in some cases they are set in different periods in time.
You can get this for £5.99 from Amazon but I don't think it is available in many book shops at this present time. There is also a prequel to this book it being The Angel's Game.
This is my first book review and I would appreciate it if anyone could tell me how to improve on it as I know it is lacking somewhere, regards.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a spanish novelist, who has been living in LA for 15 years. He released Shadow of the Wind in Spanish in 2001, meeting with wide success, selling more than millions of books worldwide.
' The city is a sorceress, you know, Daniel? It gets under your skin and steals your soul without you knowing it....'
I was drawn to the book that I saw standing in the window display at Waterstone's, the cover looked so mysterious and almost-philosophical that I felt compelled to purchase this. It was a great blind purchase based on the book cover which I do not regret at all.
This book is set in 1945, Barcelona is still wiping off the dust from the cruelties of the civil war and WW2, a young boy called Daniel Sampere who is a sensitive and thoughtful soul, who is shown by his father 'The Cemetery of Forgotten Books', hidden in the heart of Barcelona. It is a labyrinthine library where they store obscure and forgotten works of authors from not long ago. He is given a gift of one book, any book in the entire place. He is drawn towards a book of 'The Shadow of the Wind' written by Julian Carax. The young boy becomes mesmerised with the book and becomes his favourite book.
The book combines many genres from Gothic mystery to romance, with hints of Victorian-19th century literature style embedded in Zafón's writing style which I found rather a breeze to read through when getting into it; people at first might find it a challenge to get into the book but gradually, it becomes much easier to read. Zafón doesn't seem to have a weak genre and handles the range of scenes very well; putting in a few emotional pages which did touch me successfully.
It all starts with a very young mother-less boy who strives towards his father for guidance on how to deal with his mother's death, as he worries he no longer can picture her face, which sets the tone of the book; he is lost and naive. The book revolves around his comfortable life, helping his father selling books in a small bookshop, he falls in love with a book-keeper's daughter which was doomed before it even started. The book keeps track of the high and lows of Daniel's life, the trials and obstacles he must tackle. He has learnt from his short experiences very well and becomes a level-headed young man. He becomes fixated with 'Shadow of the Wind' and its curious disappearance of the author when he is confronted with a shadowed figure smoking a cigarette on a balcony who offers Daniel a large sum of money for the books. Who was he, why did he want the books, why are they being destroyed?
The plot does seem a little thin but Zafón has successfully used the 'horse and carrot' routine very well. He feeds us, the reader, little bits of information as he goes along, increasing the suspense that we just have to carry on reading! This has lead to a fantastically dramatic book, he has introduced so many characters that they all interweave into the plot which made the suspense even worse as we try to figure out the mystery. Towards the end, we begin to realise that Zafón has expertly put together the plot so well; we find out what exactly happened to Carax and recognise that actually, Daniel has followed in his favourite's author footsteps without realising.
In the middle and the end of the book, despite me enjoying it, it did feel really rushed as if Zafón had a set number of pages and he tried to cram all the action in, which made the pace seem too quick than it should have done, which could have been more effective than it was. I suppose it may be that the start of the book was rather slow that we got into it, then it suddenly changes pace for the good or the worse, I am not sure.
Zafón has crafted the characters with much love and care that when I was reading the book, he made the characters seem one-dimensional at first but after through several scenes/episodes he does explain why this character has come to be so. I particularly enjoyed it when he did a very thorough description of Julian Carax's mother, who was stuck in a marriage she didn't like with a cold and unfeeling husband and explained how it came to be like that, and displayed the mother's suffering in an extraordinary detail that left me wanting to hear more about the mother. He has created such a fantastic range of characters, every one of them had an interesting story to tell, whether it was something they'd been through or the development of how they became to be, like for example, I liked how he developed Clara and Daniel's relationship. It was approached delicately, and on the side he explores the character Clara so well. He does write about the human condition so well that I was able to connect with some of the characters.
I did initially have low expectations due to the original language of the book had been translated into English and I have been victim to badly translated books- Henning Mankell and similar books. However, Lucia Graves has done a fantastic job on the translation, it is near enough perfect.
At 506 pages, this is not a book that you can just get through in couple nights, this requires commitment to finish it!
*Shortlisted by Richard and Judy Book Club
In the back of the book, the author has included a very good guide that includes maps of the areas that are described in the book, which does make the book more special, he makes notes of where certain characters lived- Nuria Monfort's apartment, Cemetery of Lost Books, Daniel's bookshop and many other places. This is a very special addition to this book!
In all, it is a very captivating read that will grab your attention with its very dramatic plot, characters seemingly shallow but with rich depth and personality; it will keep you up nights, no matter what you do. If anyone is interested, there is a prequel to this book called The Angel's Game which was released quite recently.
The blurb of this book doesn't go anywhere near what you will actually find within its pages. It's a bit like saying a cheeseburger contains bread! There is so much more to it. Love, loss, laugh out loud humour, serendipitous coincidences, supernatural thrills, adventure, this book has it all.
As a young boy, Daniel Sempur is taken, by his father, to the cemetery of forgotten books. Here he finds The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. As he sets about finding more about the book and the author, he finds that it is the only copy in existence and that every other copy (and copies of all Carax's other novels) have been destroyed. Unravelling this mystery brings him into contact with a faceless shadow named after the character of the devil in Carax's book, a corrupt and sadistic policeman, a vagrant who isn't what he seems (and may just be one of modern literatures best characters) and of course, the obligatory femme fatale. And this really is just the tip of the iceberg.
Translated beautifully from the original Spanish, the novel pulls you into its world, suspending your disbelief in the same way a dark and empty house convinces you there are spectres round every corner.
I'm pretty sure we will get a screen adaptation; however, I do hope it will be made in Spanish and doesn't get a glossy, Hollywood makeover. My advice: Read it before this happens.
Shadow of the Wind was one of those books I've often seen in bookshops and have wondered about, but have never quite been curious enough to part with my hard earned cash for it. However, when the opportunity arose to swap it on Read it Swap it, I seized the chance.
The plot follows the trials and tribulations of Daniel, a young Spanish boy who discovers an obscure, long-forgotten book and sets out to find out as much as possible about its enigmatic author. In style, Shadow of the Wind is very reminiscent of the Victorian style novels of Charles Dickens, and in particular, reminded me very much of Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. I suspect this association is deliberate, as several times during the book, references are made to Victorian literature.
This sounds like a rather dull, even flimsy plot for a novel which takes place over 500 pages,but it's an extremely well crafted story written by an author who clearly has a very strong command over how to structure a novel to engage the reader's interest. The book starts with a very intriguing premise and builds from there, gradually drip-feeding information to the reader to maintain interest levels and keep you wanting to read. At times, the picture can be very confusing - a bit like a jigsaw puzzle where you are given pieces a few at a time, but no-one has told you what the final picture should look like. This should be frustrating, yet somehow never is. When the pieces do all start to fall into place and the mystery is slowly resolved, it is very satisfying to be able to see finally how all the pieces fit together.
Much of this is due to the fact that Zafon takes time to carefully construct some very human characters. They might behave a little oddly at times, but the characters are all perfectly normal and never do anything particularly extraordinary that you or I wouldn't do. They grow up, make friends, row with parents, fall out with friends, discover love and sex and so on. At times, it feels like you are reading a family melodrama (and that's not a criticism), rather than trying to solve a mystery. The point is you really care for these characters - and two in particular. No matter how selfish they might sometimes be, you always want them to win through. It's surprising how much emotional involvement you will feel and this is down to nothing else other than the excellent writing style and characterization of the author.
True, at times, there are a lot of characters and many of them flit into the story line, play their part and then disappear for a while before resurfacing later in the book. Obviously, this is just like real life - peoples' paths cross for a while and then go off in different directions. However, when done in novel form it is occasionally a little disconcerting. When a character you've not heard of for a while suddenly reappears from nowhere, it can be a little tricky to remember who they are, or the significance of their involvement in the plot. It's not a feeling which lasts long, as Zafon quickly brings us up to speed, and you pick things up again.
As well as an engaging plot and compelling characters, Zafon grounds his book in a realistic setting, placing his characters in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath. Zafon makes his setting very convincing and real, clearly drawing on first hand accounts and knowledge to recreate the sense of fear and suspicion that characterised Franco's regime. The one problem I had with the setting is that Zafon doesn't really explain much by way of Spanish history - he assumes that everyone knows what happened (in fairness, the novel was originally written for the Spanish market), which again, can be a little disorientating. If, like me, you only know the generalities of the period, you might find yourself struggling to keep up at times. It's not that the background setting is crucial to the plot, but a little more explanation would have helped to understand the outlook and attitudes of some of the characters better.
The plot can also be a little heavy going at times, although it was nice to see that Zafon demonstrated a nice little line in humour at times. Although a serious novel, and not intended to be funny, Zafon nevertheless has a way with words and several times described things in an amusing way, which helped to lift the tension and intensity of the book.
I did feel it lost its way a little in the middle, feeling a little over-extended. Whether this was because Zafon was trying to build the characters, whether he was setting up the ending, or whether it was just a cynical attempt to make sure the book reached a certain number of pages. Whatever the reason, for around 100-150 pages in the middle section, I found my attention starting to wander a little. Not that you're going to give up by this point - your curiosity has been well and truly aroused by the intriguing plot and you keep going on. And trust me, it's worth it, because the ending - whilst slightly predictable in one sense - is excellent. Genuinely moving, surprising in some regards and neatly tying up all the loose ends, it is everything an ending should be, but too often isn't.
Thanks to all the strong elements which go into this book (the setting, the characters, plot), this is a book which will appeal to readers of all tastes and all ages. Since finishing it, I've leant my copy to a number of other people across a range of different ages, and their opinions on it have been uniformly positive. If you just like a good book regardless of genre, then this is definitely one for you to pick up.
A fascinating, intriguing and readable book full of very real, very human characters and based around real-life situations and events, then you could do a lot worse than reading this fascinating novel. Who says the era of Victorian literature is dead?
In the Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
New from Amazon for £4.99, but can often be picked up in charity shops for around £1
© Copyright SWSt 2008
The shadow of the wind is a fantastic book! I highly recommend this to anyone who likes slightly quirky and mysterious read.
After I turned the last page I immediately sought out other books by the same author. Amazingly this is his first novel - I can't wait for another!
Flowing in stlye, with strong characters, some which are totally lovable, others detastable - This book is a once in a lifetime revelation.
Set in spain the story tells of the life of a young boy who finds a book and an amazing story follows. He falls in and out of love and risks his life to protect this book - which has a secret history of it's own.
Totally un-put-downable with twists and turns on almost every page.
Depending on your reading speed, put a few days of your life onhold as once you start this book you will want to do nothing but read on!
Hidden away in the back streets of Barcelona is the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and when ten-year-old Daniel Sempere is introduced to it by his father hes allowed to choose one book from the millions of dusty volumes stored there. His choice is The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax and when he reads it hes completely enchanted. Its 1945 and the world is emerging from war and Spain has the added burden of the memories of the Civil War. As the years pass Daniel realises that a lot of people are strangely, dangerously interested in his book. What begins as curiosity about Carax, his life and his other books becomes an obsession to discover the truth behind the disappearance of Carax and the girl he loved.
I delayed reading this book for quite a long time. Its a translation from the original Spanish and so often translations fail to live up to the promise. I was put off, too by the quote from the Daily Telegraph on the front an instant classic. Im increasingly finding that book reviews in national newspapers are rarely critical and seem designed only to sell books, so when I finally started to read the book, I expected little.
At the beginning of the story we meet Daniel as a shy, uncertain and motherless boy, frightened that he can no longer picture his dead mother. Over a period of ten years we watch him mature into a confident, responsible man. Ive read many coming-of-age books where the accent has been on the sexual aspect of maturing. There is an element of that here but theres far more emphasis on emotions and obligations. We see Daniels first, unrequited love for the older, blind daughter of a rich bookseller in Barcelona and the brutal shock he receives when he witnesses her involvement with another man. The relationship between Daniel and his father is skilfully conveyed as we see the parental ties slowly but inexorably loosen.
The coming of age aspect is only a small part of the book. For me it was primarily a closely plotted work of detection and an historical thriller. The story begins in 1945, not long after the end of the Spanish Civil War. Old scores are still being settled, loyalties change almost by the day and theres an atmosphere of fear about the activities of the police in the form of Inspector Fumero who is nothing more than a psychotic killer. In his presence I felt a complete sense of helplessness. As a teenager Daniel becomes aware of a shadowy man who is trying to buy up all copies of the books by Julián Carax with the intention of burning them. Who is he? Why is he doing this and why will Fumero stop at nothing to trace Carax?
Theres a tremendous dramatic tension in the book with its stories of sudden disappearances and lives broken for the flimsiest of reasons. Ultimately its a magnificent story about a doomed love that someone will go to any lengths to bury in the past. Theres Gothic melodrama and even the hint of a ghost story. The plotting is superb as we realise that parts of Caraxs book reflect the problems of his own life and then that events in Daniels life are reflecting the life of the man with whom hes obsessed.
Ive barely scraped the surface of the many (or even the main) characters in the book. Its a very varied cast and each is skilfully drawn. All are essential to the plot. Theyre all three-dimensional and very believable - male and female characters are all equally strong. Thats very unusual. The star of the book for me though was the post-war city of Barcelona. Its beautifully drawn and very evocative, but then Zafón is a native.
I enjoyed too the detail about the book trade. Daniels father is a bookseller and Daniel joins him in the business, but I was fascinated by the details about acquisition and sale of books and their care. I had a real sense of the story being set within a business rather than the way in which people earned their living being an inconvenient fact to be filled in, as in so many novels.
The translation is as close to perfection as youre likely to get. The translator is Lucia Graves, daughter of the poet Robert Graves. Its more usual for her to translate from English into Spanish or Catalan but she has excelled herself with this book. Zafóns style is expansive and witty but Graves loses none of the subtleties of the work. The book is very easy reading and I simply couldnt put it down.
There are sexual references in the book but nothing that I found offensive. Although there are some violent scenes I didnt find any that are gratuitously so - Id regard this as adult reading but without any other restrictions.
I read a lot of books in 2005. This was the best of them all.
Paperback 512 pages (October 5, 2005)
Publisher: Phoenix mass market paperback
Price £7.99 but available on Amazon for £3.99 in January 2006