A book review !.

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.

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12 Responses to A book review !.

  1. Kelly says:

    Your review intrigued me enough that I had to also check this out at Amazon. It might have to go on my wish list.

    • V.H says:

      I would find it hard to number grade this book. But if you call Dan Brown, pretty much anything by him, as a 30 this would be a 90+. But you could only do it in relation to the lesser. With the last book I reviewed, the Stieg Larsson, that too would be a 90+ when held beside the DaVinci Code. But you couldn’t compare this one and the Larsson, numerically. But you could easily give both an ‘A’, and at the upper end of the ‘A’ too.

      • Kimberly says:

        Oh I agree. While Brown’s books are very entertaining they’re pretty formula driven. The Larsson books and this one go a lot deeper than just that sellable format.

        • V.H says:

          The reason I mentioned Brown at all is Amazon is using him to push this book. Frankly Brown wouldn’t have entered ‘my’ head in any connection to the Larsson or the Zafón at all.

  2. Kimberly says:

    Chick lit huh? I guess I can see the romance part leaning that way, but not really gushy or girly. I’m trying to remember all the details that made me like it so much, but it’s been over 2 years and I just can’t. I do remember the ending being so suspenseful though. I’m glad you liked this one too. It isn’t one that I would have pulled off the shelf of at a bookshop just by chance, but it definitely fit the bill for a work of fiction. How cool was that bookstore?!?!
    I have heard that Ruiz’s 2nd book Angel’s Game – which is a prequel to Shadows – is also very good.

    • V.H says:

      Ah come now, you know that book deposit is like cat nip for a lit geek. Hell as a kid I went to a local auction house each Thursday as it was the day they got a container of furniture from house sales in the UK. And it had BOOKS because they would buy a room or a house, with everything. I read stuff, good stuff, at 13 that most don’t read til a post grad.
      Yes there are a few twists. I didn’t want to open it up as someone might want to read and discover for themselves. 🙂
      Thanks BTW

      • Kimberly says:

        Are there still estate sellers like that over there, where you can go find books? It is nearly impossible to find them here anymore. Although there are still a couple good used stores in the city, with the take over of the big bookstore chains and e-books a really good selection is hard o come by.
        Being that you are a bibliophile, I have another recommendation 🙂 – “The Bookman’s Tale”. I just finished it last week. I must warn that there is somewhat of a sappy love story intertwined throughout the book, but the main story about a rare book dealer is wonderful.

        • V.H says:

          Ah no, I’m going back a while now. Plus people are getting too cute, they sell on ebay rather than a whole bookcase, like they did in the past, as a job lot.

          I’m reading The Book Thief. And I’ll tell you one thing, I was stumped for a few days. I would read the first 20 or so pages and then have to go back to see what I was missing. I did that about four times and was about to give up when I happened to glance at the jacket. Death is the narrator !!!!!!!!!. Then the absolutist statements from on high made some sense. Why colour on his shoulder made a sort of reasonableness being as it supposed to be the very last thing a person sees.

          • Kimberly says:

            Ahhhhh, one of my favorites. Yes, isn’t Death as the narrator clever. There have been so many “stories” from this time period told from the perspective of a Jewish person, rightly so for that period of time. This one approached it from a unique perspective though – the non-Jews in Germany who did not agree with the ideology of the government. I think the author writes about that inner-turmoil these people must have faced really well.
            There are very few books I feel the need to hold onto after reading it. That one I’ve shared with multiple people, but my name is in it because I want it back when they’re done. 🙂 I think I have my name in Shadows of the Wind too.

            • V.H says:

              I don’t know if it works yet, I’m not that far in.
              Relatively speaking the narrative from the Jewish perspective was late. After 1968 Six Day War really. Before that you had a series of biographies like the Violette Szabo or Odette. You know the little people doing great things.

  3. sage says:

    A good review and an interesting sounding book, but right now I have such a long reading list…. But I enjoyed learning about it and got a chuckle out of how you compared things above to Dan Brown.

    • V.H says:

      Thanks. I’m a bit the same. I’ve had to get up earlier ‘specially to read novels and drop TV time too.

      As a student of History Dan Brown sets my teeth on edge. He could have written all his stories and kept them far far tighter. But I think I’m less precious than some. I tend to the notion that any reading of history is better than none.

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