I remember the first time I read Wuthering Heights. The characters, the winding plots and schemes twisting around from the random events that tear apart everyone’s lives. It was a memorable and well written book that I hated then, dislike now and would not read again if you paid me. Heathcliff can go jump in a lake.
The Shadow Of The Wind is a similarly complex and dizzying book, filled with layers of plot and emotion, but I loved reading it and won’t soon forget the experience. As Daniel described his own, similar absorption in the titular story: “Page after page I let the spell of the story and its world take me over, until the breath of dawn touched the window and my tired eyes slid over the last page.” Shadow is wrenching story, packed with tragedy, love, and broken lives that have been mangled by the cruel hands of fate. If that language sounds flowery, it might be an aftereffect of the beautiful writing style of Mr. Zafon, who paints people, buildings and the city of Barcelona with a clean and loving brush. Mr. Zafon apparently lives there presently, and he has written, among other things, a love letter to the place.
The story opens with young Daniel Sempere being escorted to a mysterious building one foggy morning by his father, a bookseller by trade. Upon entering he is told that it is the Cemetary of Forgotten Books, from which he may choose one, on condition that he never lose it or give it away. The little boy wanders the isles until a volume catches his eye: a faded book called The Shadow Of The Wind by Julien Carax. Taking it home, he is instantly absorbed by the story and sets out to find more books by Carax. However, it turns out that someone is destroying all of the copies of Caraxs’ work, and learning their secrets will bring up a lot of old and bloody history……
This is an amazing book, and like young Daniel it will grab you from the start and not let go. Not because it has action, or death-defying peril, or world-shattering calamity, but because of the tightly plotted narrative. Everyone and everything in the story is deftly explained without unneeded detail, since it isn’t as important to know who they are as it is how they respond to what happens to them in the past, present and future.
Part of the backdrop of the book is the Spanish Civil War, a conflict I will admit I don’t know much about at all. Here, it is portrayed as a time of tension, changing loyalties and blood, and the violence it caused are a direct influence on the story, alongside class and social ranking that also play a part in the lives of the participants. Zafon succeeds as well in blending fear, humor, terror, and love in one place. An undercurrent of darkness and corruption is present everywhere. Everyone is flawed and almost all of them are looking for happiness in a battered world.
On the one hand, I’d love to tell you more about the plot, because it’s deep and beautiful, and hopefully telling you about it will make you more likely to pick it up. On the other, I’d hate to give anything away. Go read it if you have some free time-it’s hard to put down.
As with all of my other reviews, this one is also featured on Cannonball Read, a race to review a certain number of books in a year, all in a good cause. There’s a lot of other good stuff over there: please feel free to take a look.