Saturday, July 01, 2006

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Shadow of the Wind

I have just finished reading a gripping novel called The Shadow of the Wind by a Spanish writer by the name of Carlos Ruiz Zafón.  The blurb on this tome – and it is a big book which runs to over 400 pages – reads like a sustained eulogy, singing praise after praise for this author and his magnum opus.  All the reader has to do is agree with these assessments after his has put down this addictive read.

Firstly some information about the author, though this is in no way necessary for the reader to know.  After finishing this tour de force of a novel, shot through with the energy and passion of such Gothic classics as Frankenstein by Mary Shelley or say, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, I was driven by inquitiveness to find out some information on Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Well briefly then, he was born in Barcelona in 1964 only a block away from Gaudi’s famous cathedral, La Sagrada Familia.  One piece of information about Zafón which is undoubtedly important to his style of writing is the fact that he worked as a screenwriter in Los Angeles for a number of years.  No wonder, then, that he is such a superb and skilled plot maker.  He published four novels for young-adults before escaping everything to write THE SHADOW OF THE WIND, a novel that has become an international literary phenomenon in over 20 countries. His novels have been translated into more than thirty languages and published in over forty countries and they have sold three million copies all over the world.

Any way, I don’t wish to write another book review of this now modern classic, as many brilliant ones can be found on the net.  See the following link for good reviews - http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/espana/zafoncr.htm . All I wish to sketch here are my own thoughts on this marvelous book.

  1. I have quoted over and over again in these pages my favourite definition of style: “Le style c’est l’homme même" (Buffon).  Given this, we can say that Carlos Ruiz is a master of self-knowledge and in the expression of that self-knowledge with a style that is truly unique.  This book reads at a marvelously passionate and energetic pace.  Beautiful images from all the five senses, similes and metaphors just teem from his bountiful pen.  The author is a lover of words and before long he has us enchanted and firmly under his spell.

  2. One is enthralled as I have said as under a spell.  We are almost at a movie, so vivid are the scenes that Carlos Ruiz can paint with his words.  It’s like viewing an old Boris Karloff film or an Orson Welles’ movie. (For you horror film lovers see http://www.karloff.com/ and http://www.bway.net/~nipper/ )   As I have said above the Gothic novel is not dead, The Shadow of the Wind fits firmly and comfortably in this category of fiction.  We have all the decaying old mansions, the back streets and the dark passage ways along with all the larger-than-life characters.

  3. There are certain similarities with the writings of Umberto Eco, say The Name of the Rose – I allude to the level of the historical detective.  This novel is at once a thriller and a love story.

  4. There is also a very deep understanding of psychology at work in this novel also.  It deals with the human hearts deepest concerns – meaning of life, friendship and love.  However, the love portrayed is obsessive to an extreme degree, if the qualification here is not tautology.   There are also other obsessions at work – obsessions with literature, with Barcelona, the city where the novel is set, and of course obsessions with revenge and with death – all the stuff of Gothic horror.  It is also quasi-Freudian, because we have sons looking for their fathers or rather for their inner father and daughters and sons looking for long-lost mothers.

  5. The Shadow of the Wind is a triumph of the storyteller's art. For us Irish the importance of the seanachaí or storyteller cannot be underestimated.  Zafón is an enthralling and brilliant seanachaí.   There is probably a more suitable word for this in the Spanish tradition.

  6. In a totally different league or orbit even to the block-buster novels of Dan Brown.  Okay, Dan can spin a good yarn, can be a master of suspense etc but minus the passion, the style, the love of language, books, literature, psychology and love of place – all of which Zafón has in abundance.

  7. It is also a compelling political thriller with a sweeping historical romance, taking in the results of the savagery of the civil war, the world of the tainted Spanish aristocracy and of course the dark secrets born of Franco's tyranny.

  8. Plenty of love, magic, murder, madness, labyrinths of streets and of books, and twists and turns of plot to keep even the most reluctant reader engaged.

  9. Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet there is almost “a novel within a novel” in place of the “play within a play.”  There are two parallel stories running side by side.  These are seamlessly interwoven one with the other.

  10. I thought that the motif or image or conceit even of Zola’s pen was marvelous.

  11. Zafón’s tour de force is equally matched by the beautifully stylish translation of Lucia Graves. of

  12. This book is at turns scary, erotic, touching, tragic and thrilling.

  13. I’ll finish on point 13, unlucky for some, but in keeping with the Gothic nature of this novel.  This is a book about the healing and liberating power of the imagination.

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