Before I begin reviewing the book, first I feel obligated to explain my prejudice towards it. I’ve read a bit of it after picking it at random in the library at my secondary school; I was intrigued by the title and the cover. I couldn’t follow the plot or relate to the characters so I didn’t finish reading it – I think I was too young. I finally decided to confront my ‘demon’, as this book had haunted my memory for at least the last 5 years. (I think this is a testament to how well Carlos Ruiz Zafón writes.) I bought it three years ago at a garage sale in Australia, and it’s been glaring at me for a while from my bookshelf. After picking it up a couple of days ago (which was a Monday), I forced myself to open the pages which I dreaded so much and finish it by the end of the week. I know it’ silly to dread a book, but when you don’t like the plot, or characters, or the way the book is written, any excuse is good enough to put it down. I decided though that I wouldn’t be satisfied with my literary pursuits until I finally read it from start to finish. It was a bit of a trek to read up to the point I remember reading, because I partially knew what would happen. (And didn’t particularly like it) The second half I hadn’t read however, proved to be an entirely different matter. I was hooked. Here’s why…
The Shadow of the Wind
By Carlos Ruiz Zafón
First published in 2004 by Text Publishing, but I had the second edition which was published in 2004 by the same company in Melbourne, Australia. It included maps and notes.
This is a book within a book. It tells the story of a young boy named Daniel who finds the book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a secret place his father takes him to. Daniel is told that he must keep the book alive, by remembering it, and having others remember it. He attempts to find out everything he can about Julián Carax, only to uncover a past filled with death, misery, and pain… and a present which wants to forget it at all costs.
Initially I despised this book. As I’ve mentioned above, I had a prejudice towards it. After a while though I really enjoyed the humour and the skill with which Ruiz Zafón writes. I couldn’t quite sympathise with the main character, mainly because he continued to make one bad decision after another. Every single time he left his house he seemed to run into trouble, and it became very clear as the narrative progressed that he was messing with forces beyond his control and understanding.
I must say my favourite character is Fermín Romero de Torres. I love his wit and ingenuity, but above all I love his loyalty and his bravery. He is one of those characters that gets up and ‘does’ things, even though he has a dark past he is trying to run away from… but this is a trait most characters share in the book. My least favourite character is Clara Berceló, who blindly takes everything for granted… literally. She’s one of the reasons why I put the book down, but happily she doesn’t play a significant part in the plot so I was able to enjoy the rest of the book without having to endure her.
I thought I would be happy after reading this book and finally getting it over and done with. But I’m not happy… and I think the reason why is because I like it. When I initially set out on this venture, I was thoroughly convinced I would hate this book, and I read it with every intention of throwing it away after finishing it. I can’t bring myself to throw it out now.
As I was refreshing my memory with the parts I had read already, and afterwards reading the parts I had left unfinished, I realised why I hated this book in the beginning; it’s like a rollercoaster. It takes you on a ride from which you can’t get off. It carries your mind left right and center in a hectic spiral, finally slowing down in the last chapter to let you off so you can compose your senses and allow yourself a deep breath before attempting to resume normal function. I don’t like rollercoasters, and I didn’t like this book in the beginning either. Once you get used to the rhythm though, you begin to enjoy the ride… and it’s one hell of a ride.
That’s why this book is brilliant. It moves you, which is what I think every good book should do. Some parts of the story are told through a normal means – the characters’ interaction. Some, however, are narratives told by the characters. These are written in chunks. The stories of the characters’ past told by the characters themselves sometimes drag on, but the information you gain from them is so important to the progression of the story that you don’t really care. You just want to know more, you read this book with a hunger to know what, why and where. Initially I forced myself to read this book, towards the end I couldn’t put it down. I just wanted to know what happened in the end.
I recommend this book wholeheartedly. With caution. You will be glued to the pages if you like mystery, romance, suspense… just to name a few of the themes this book covers. This is definitely a book for adults, not young readers. If you’ve read Game of Thrones, you’ll like this. Instead of lords and swords in Westeros, you have spies and shadows in Barcelona.