The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Phoenix fiction: paperback published 2005: 506 pages
Hidden in the heart of the old city of Barcelona is the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’, a labyrinthine library of obscure and forgotten titles. To this library, a man brings his ten-year-old son, Daniel, one cold morning in 1945. Daniel is allowed to choose one book and from the dusty shelves pulls The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. But as Daniel grows up, several people seem inordinately interested in his find. What begins as a case of literary curiosity turns into a race to find out the truth behind the life and death of Julián Carax and to save those he left behind.
Do me a favour with this book – don’t read the blurb. Instead, turn to page one. All I ask is that you read from page one to page six, and then decide to read the book.
Those first six pages are perhaps the main reason I love this book so much. Because in those six pages, we come across the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Few other libraries have ever captured my imagination like the Cemetery (the library in The Beauty and the Beast is another all-time favourite), and I think few others ever will now I have heard about the Cemetery.
This book is a love story, a mystery and an adventure all wrapped up with poetry, beauty and a little bit of magic. I have read this book several times before, but even I can’t remember all of it – I discover new nuances and twists that I hadn’t realised or forgotten about, which makes each read all the more enjoyable.
It’s time to roam the streets of Barcelona with Daniel – discovering a city that feels like it is the setting for every film noir there ever was. The characters, each so intricately painted, become real and exciting; each becomes your friend or your enemy, and they are so detailed, you would swear you could smell them.
The twist, perhaps, is somewhat predictable from the middle of the book. But it makes it no less when the Grand Reveal happens a hundred or so pages later. The journey is the most exciting part – you don’t need to be shocked by the twist, because it’s almost extra to the story.
This is a book that reminds you why you love them – from the simply pleasure of reading it to the fact that it’s all about books! Daniel is a compelling hero – with equally strong characters to support him in the weaker moments and to step back when Zafón’s writing of him shines.
But the real hero is the city. Barcelona feels tangible and mysterious and beautiful and cruel all at once. You long to be able to visit that city in the late 1940s and early 1950s, just to soak up the atmosphere that falls from the page in gallons. (This particular edition gives you some tourist notes at the back so you can follow in the footsteps of the book if the urge takes you).
Zafón’s writing is clever even in translation, and the poetry of his language is haunting and mesmerising. This is a comfort-blanket book, one I can read over and over again and love, and one that I can hand to anyone and know that they will enjoy it.
Next Book: Before I see the film (because no doubt I will), I am going to read Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.