Monday, June 22, 2009

As good a starting place as any...

by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Let me start by saying that I haven’t read The Shadow of the Wind. Ruiz Zafon has stated that The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game are the first two of a quartet of linked novels that can be read in any order. Reading this prequel, I genuinely feel like it’s a fine starting point.

The Angel’s Game is the story of writer David Martin, and it’s atmospherically set in Barcelona, Spain roughly between 1900 and 1930. The story opens when David is a very young boy. His childhood is a chronicle of deprivation. Despite his modest background, David forms strong relationships with writers, editors, and booksellers. They see an innate intelligence and a natural talent that they mentor. David Martin is a born story-teller.

It is this ability that attracts the attention of French publisher Andreas Corelli, who offers the young writer the proverbial offer he can’t refuse, because The Angel’s Game is essentially a Faustian tale. Oddly enough, it was this central theme that I found least interesting. It was the many supporting characters and their stories that captivated me. The love triangle, the happenings at the bookstore, the murder mystery, and, of course the Cemetery of Forgotten Books—it sounds like there’s a lot going on, and there is, but it all manages to blend into a cohesive story.

Zafon does a brilliant job of developing Martin’s character from innocence to bitter experience. I often found myself wondering how that sweet little boy became a not very admirable adult. It was unfortunate, but the evolution was entirely believable. And Martin is a fully formed character, with many different facets. I especially loved the relationship that developed with his young assistant. And despite the darkness of the tale, a match-making subplot had me laughing out loud.

I’d heard talk that some readers are disappointed with the endings of Zafon’s novels. I don’t count myself among them. The ending of the novel is strange, and may hurt your head if you think too long about it, but how are you going to end this story anyway? I’m looking forward to reading The Shadow of the Wind, and seeing where Zafon goes next with his epic.

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