The Angel’s Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind was possibly one of the best books that I have ever read. I think that it was the concept of the Cemetery of Books which got me … an awesome notion for someone who loves the smell and sense of miles of books. In my mind it is one of the ephemeral books which lingers for a long time after the last page is done and dusted, as though it occupies the very air that we breathe. I remember distinctly being drawn into the Cemetery of Books and wanting to stay there myself, wanting to know exactly the flavour of such a place, how it resonated within one’s spirit and captured one’s imagination so wholly. I was transfixed by the books. 

So, it was with quick excitement that I bought The Angel’s Game, quite some time ago I must confess and it has been sitting patiently on that long shelf of TBR books that occupies half my house. In part I was afraid to read this book because I didn’t want to destroy my previous conception of Zafon’s genius. I was loathe to be disappointed. I know that I have reviewed another book by Zafon but that was YA fiction and occupies a different space for me so there was little chance of being disappointed there – and indeed, I wasn’t in that example.

Thus it was that I stumbled across The Angel’s Game while moving house and decided that it was time to bite the proverbial bullet and read the book and just surrender myself to the possibility of disappointment.

One of the things that I think classifies this author as a master is his ability to create an entire world that teeters on fantasy. It is hard to tell what is real in Zafon’s writing and what is lost in the mist of his imagination. There is no doubt that The Angel’s Game meets this expectation for there are several cloudy worlds mingling in this tome. I loved the versions of reality that Zafon created here and I found each of them intriguing for different reasons… I also enjoyed the different narrative strands and the way that they hung with possibility sometimes realised and sometimes not.

On one level this book grabbed me at the outset:

“A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him.”

It seems that this is Zafon’s primary interest, the power of words, of their imprint on paper and how that paper lingers – the Cemetery of Books, it finds its home here too. “A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.” I was intrigued by this character that lead the book’s opening. He was nicely rounded and seemed to leap from the pages, his passion and pain so entirely captivating that I found myself drawn into his world. The first part of the novel continued in this fashion – ACT ONE: City of the Damned.

As we travel through David Martin’s world we meet a host of other characters, the bookseller and his son, the writer, the illusive editor Andreas Corelli and the essential love interest, Cristina. Some of these characters are more beautifully developed than others and perhaps this is par for the course in a novel which covers so many different genres – history, fantasy, epic love story, mystery, thriller … Unfortunately, at some point I was lost by the intermingling of these different elements and I found myself struggling to read the second part of this book. I can’t seem to pinpoint exactly what element led me astray … at times I didn’t really care about Martin and his miseries and I think that in order for one to fall for a book one has to feel some sort of commitment to the protagonist, or to another character. I wanted Martin to have more spine, to be substantial perhaps. When he finally did show himself to be somewhat heroic it was too late and thus I didn’t cry for him when his loved one disappeared under the ice … I think at that moment I was simply too confused by the way that the novel’s structure seemed to disintegrate or maybe vanish.

I still enjoyed the book and I was very taken with its ending, confronting as it was. Not quite The Shadow of the Wind … but not too disappointing either!

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