Visions of Paradise

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Shadow of the Wind

Good authors tend to fall into two categories (yeah, yeah, I know, everything falls into two categories, and there are an endless series of what those categories are): storytellers and artists. An occasional writer can combine both aspects successfully, but primarily a writer who knows his or her strengths and sticks to them produces more satisfying fiction than one who strives for more than they can successfully accomplish.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a natural storyteller, and his acclaimed Spanish novel Shadow of the Wind succeeds very well on that level. But Zafón also tries to be an artist, and he is somewhat less successful in that regard.

Shadow is a melodramatic mystery sparked when a young boy named Daniel is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his bookseller father where he discovers an obscure book entitled Shadow of the Wind by the even-more obscure author Julian Carax. Daniel immediately becomes obsessed with Carax and sets out to learn as much about the author as possible. Almost immediately this opens up a veritable Pandora’s Box of mysterious events, especially when Daniel learns that nearly every copy of every book written by Carax has mysteriously been destroyed. Determined to learn the reason behind this seemingly bizarre series of events, Daniel becomes involved with:

▸ Cara, the blind daughter of a respected bookseller, with whom Daniel falls head over heels in love, and to whom he spends many months reading Carax’s book

▸ Fermín, a beggar who soon becomes a valued employee of Daniel’s father’s shop and Daniel’s cohort in uncovering the mystery

▸ Lain Coubert, a character in the book Shadow of the Wind who in real life is a badly-disfigured night stalker trying to retrieve Daniel’s last copy of the book

▸ Fumero, the evil police official who is seemingly responsible for the scars riddling Fermín’s body, and who is also seeking the mysterious Julian Carax.

▸ Nuria Monfort, a former lover of Carax who seems to be involved in the entire mystery, and obviously knows more about it than she is revealing

The story has aspects of a thriller, as well as a mystery, and the pace never falters as plot complications become more and more complex. Daniel falls in love with the sister of his best friend, which somehow turns her entire family against him. 300+ pages in, the plot seems so complicated that it might never unravel.

The plot unravels too easily though when Daniel receives a very long letter–90 pages long, in fact–from Nuria which explains the entire mystery to him. This was a bit of a cheat, since everything Daniel and Fermín were trying so hard to decipher was suddenly handed to them on a platter. It still left another hundred pages of denouement, since knowing the why of everything did not resolve the what of it all.

The ending itself was melodramatic, offering few real surprises, but every plot element was tied up successfully, and fairly neatly at that.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Shadow of the Wind because of Zafón’s storytelling talents. It was when he tried to be an artist that he got in a bit of trouble, but his storytelling skills saved him in the end. I recommend this book, especially for readers who enjoy old books and their mysterious authors.


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