My vision of Barcelona in the 1930’s has been shaped by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. The city sky is perpetually overcast. I imagine glistening wet sidewalks and streetlamps haloed by fog. Automobiles are large and sculptural, with polished chrome hood ornaments that cut through the night. The men and women wander the streets with their faces buried in books. Everyone looks like a Tamara de Lempicka model.
There’s a lot wrong with that picture. All that dampness and shadow are neither conducive to the reading or keeping of books. And with everybody’s noses stuck between the pages no one can be paying attention. People would be colliding or, even worse, run down by those oncoming automobiles while crossing the street (the wet asphalt preventing the driver from braking in time). So, yeah, none of it is very practical. But I would argue that this is representative of the kinds of idiosyncrasies that make a Zafón novel special. The small implausibilities that slowly add up and which the reader is willing to dismiss because the writing is so good. It is a world subtly askew.
No one writes novels like Carlose Ruiz Zafón. I mean that in the best possible way. The Angel’s Game is no exception. Like The Shadow of the Wind it is beautifully written, completely absorbing, and utterly fantastic. Zafón lovingly crafts his tales from melodrama, an excess of atmospheric setting and characters a reader will fall hopelessly in love with. Once again we gain entrance to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and browse Sempere & Son’s Bookshop. We revisit old haunts we remember from The Shadow of the Wind. But memories change. They play tricks. This time the story is completely different. Don’t be fooled by familiar landmarks.
The story of The Angel’s Game is much darker than the preceding book (which in fact follows this one chronologically) . It centers around and is narrated by David Martìn, a young writer who tells us the story of his life and the history of his career. He makes his money as the author of popular Gothic fiction, pulps, which we are repeatedly reminded are a waste of his talent. Still, they pay. And they allow him to move into an abandoned mansion he has dreamed about since his childhood. Writing pulps grants him the opportunity to publish his first serious novel.
It is at the Tower House, his abandoned mansion, that the publisher Andreas Corelli offers him the opportunity to work on a special project. This same man has lurked on the edges of David’s life since childhood. But there is something not quite right about Corelli, or about the book he is asking David to write. And as David probes deeper into the history of his home, and of this new “Boss”, he discovers that he has involved himself in a sinister game that Corelli has played before.
While this game is at the center of The Angel’s Game ‘s narrative, it is by no means the only story told. Because this is also the story of David’s life and the relationships that have been central to it. This novel is about the making of a writer, and what becomes of that writer once he has been made. We meet David’s parents, friends and his mentors, the women he has loved and who have loved him. The Angel’s Game contains mysteries, suspense, horrors and romance. There are false trails and surprise twists. Some questions are asked that will remain unanswered. Needless to say, no summary will do the full complexity of the plot justice. Trust me – once you start reading you’ll find it difficult to put this book down.
Zafón has said in interviews that The Shadow of the Wind & The Angel’s Game, as well as the two books that will follow, were originally envisioned as a single magnum opus of a novel. I cannot even begin to imagine. To my mind four books may not be enough. (Realistically, Zafón probably could have gotten two novels out of the material he used in The Angel’s Game alone). But where would be the fun in that? This novel is as much about the journey through the labyrinth as it is about getting out at the end.
From the two books published so far it is still too soon to determine what will be the common thread running through the series. The bookshop of Sempere & Son appears in both novels, which leads me to believe that there will be a Sempere and son making an appearance in all four books (though not necessarily the same Sempere and son). And of course the Cemetery of Forgotten Books – the magical heart of both novels. After that, who knows? Only one character has so far made a live appearance in both stories to my knowledge. It’s so hard to predict where this is all going, perhaps it’s better not to try. Maybe it’s best to keep wandering through the maze until the next book arrives.
Publisher: Doubleday (2009)
ISBN: 978 0 385 52870 2