I’ve just finished reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón © 2001, translated from the Spanish by Lucia Graves © 2004. Set in Barcelona, Spain bracketing the twenty years either side of 1940.
In structure it is like that of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha ( El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha), or the Golden Ass (Metamorphosis). You enter the narrative as an observer/reader/onlooker but very rapidly the writing forms about you and you become engrossed.
The story begins with secrecy, a secret deposit of books called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where the narrator finds a hidden book by an author who writes novels about life in Barcelona. This re-forms away from the book that was hidden in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books to the author of the book. Basically it becomes a detective story at one level. A love story on another. And another, a boy developing into a form of manhood distorted by a Civil War where the terrors of his main teachers and guardians colour their view of everything.
The procession of the first two-thirds might be called gossipy, with a deceptively easy flow. The last third moves so rapidly that one feels that you are about to tumble on a slope so steep your legs move of their own accord. So much so you find yourself at the end before you realise it.
Without any doubt a red-blooded male will think in parts he’s walked into a chick lit novel. But there is no doubt also there will be times any woman will thing she’s entered a more violent version of Grand Theft Auto. Made more so as one is processing the images oneself in your mind and not mediated by film. It is by times gentle and harsh. And a wholly darn good read.
I have one tiny niggle. There is a good bit of fuss made about a house build by a man who returned from Cuba in 1890s. He returned with a wife and her maid, the latter was also his mistress. I feel there is a message in this dimension of the story that isn’t translating. I believe if I was reading in the Spanish I would pick up on it. In English, the story of the house is bulb without the light.
In all this is a magnificent book. What I’m less certain though is how the general reader would take it. But then who the dickens is a general reader anyway.