Carlos Ruiz Zafón, La sombra del viento

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It is a rather odd thing to finish this book on Halloween. This is a book full of shadows and dread; unhappy events abound and scary characters keep coming back to haunt  those only trying to go on living, in  a Spain in the throes of a civil war and through the grayness of the Franco era. This is my second Ruiz Zafón novel. I had a first read El prisionero del cielo last year, one of the novels from the “Cementerio de los libros olvidados” cycle, which will reportedly include four novels, with three published so far. One is supposed to be able to read the novels in any order, as each has a self-contained plot. This is how this idea is presented:

Este libro es parte de un ciclo de cuatro novelas que se entrecruzan en el universo literario del El Cementerio de los Libros Olvidados. Los relatos que lo forman están interconectados a través de personajes e hilos argumentales que tienden puentes entre las tramas, aunque cada uno de ellos es completamente independiente y ofrece una historia cerrada y contenida en sí misma. Las novelas del El Cementerio de los Libros Olvidados pueden leerse en cualquier orden o por separado, permitiendo al lector explorar y acceder al laberinto de historias a través de diferentes puertas y caminos que, completado el cuarteto, le conducirán al corazón de la narración.

I am not sure that I agree that each book is completely independent as the same characters do come back and in the case of the two I have read so far, the back story is consistent and the complex relationships between the protagonists has been preserved. I can see some interest though in not prescribing an order for the reading of the books in that the reader will learn of certain facts and relationships at different times and there make different connections between the stories, thereby leading to different reading experiences. That, in itself, is not a bad idea. In any case, I think it is always true that the story is in part created by the interaction of the reader with the text, the interaction of the reader´s background, knowledge base, imagination and sense of adventure.

In this book, we find again Daniel, the son of the bookseller who ends up working with his father in his bookstore. But we meet him as a young boy and his father introduces to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a kind of secret library that one can only access accompanied by someone who is in on the secret. On that fateful visit, Daniel is authorized to pick up a book to bring him. This book, a novel by one Julian Carax, totally fascinates him, although we never really find out what the book is about. What we do find out is that others have an interest in this book either as collectors, or to destroy it. This is where we meet the first devilish figure of the book, a terribly disfigured burn victim called Laín Coubert (although this is actually the name of a character in the book that represents the Devil). This character smell of fire and smoke (literally!) and has been linked to several instances where books by Julian Carax have been lost in fires.

On a parallel story, Daniel meets Fermín, at that time a homeless man plagued by terribly nightmares. He befriends him and his father offers him a job in the bookstore based on his great erudition and his ability to locate rare books. Daniel tells Fermín about the Carax book and they both start investigating its origin and the life of its authors. They find tragic stories of lost loves, of violence and betrayal, and of duplicity. They also encounter the other devilish character of this book, a police inspector of remarkable cruelty who had been a school mate of Julian Carax (Inspector Fumero) but who is also investigating the murky past of Daniel´s friend Fermín. He shows up at many points in the story to proffer threats.

Ruiz Zafón has said he did not want his books to be turned into movies, and I can see how that could seem an impossible project given the complexity of each novel (I have really said very little above, there is much, much more going on in the book). But if there were to be movies, I would be curious to see the portrayal of Laín Coubert and Inspector Fumero…

Reference

Ruiz Záfon, Carlos. La sombra del viento. Barcelona, Editorial Planeta, 2001.

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