Monday, December 01, 2008

Book Review : The Shadow Of The Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon*****

Well this is a piece of genre hopping magic and no mistake, first it's a mystery, which becomes a murder mystery, and a romance, and another couple of romances, with liberal dollops of humour thrown in.

The novel is set in the sumptuously described city of Barcelona around the time of the Spanish Civil War, Zafon captures the sights and life of one of Europe's great cities and examines it through the pall of fear and mistrust that the fascist uprising threw over Spain.

A young boy, Daniel, is taken to the Cemetery Of Lost Books to choose a book for himself, ostensibly to help him get over the death of his mother. Daniel picks a novel by a virtually unknown author, Julien Carax, and after reading 'The Shadow Of The Wind' he becomes entranced and enthralled with Carax's writing.

Years later Daniel sets out to discover Carax's other works, and to find out more about the author and his life, only to discover that a mysterious man has been systemically destroying all of Carax's printed books, and that investigating Carax leads him into a dangerous race with an murderer turned policeman, Fumero.

Zafon's writing is rich and clever. His characters live in the age of books and early cinema, they all come across as natural storytellers themselves, every plot and sub plot being described in lashings of detail. That's not to say that Shadow Of The Wind is overly wordy, at 500 plus pages it is a largish novel, and quite densely written, but Zafon's descriptive strengths make it a pleasure to read.

One of Zafon's strongest talents is his ability to blend comedy with horror and bleakness. Into Daniel's life comes Fermin, a man who has been tortured horrifically by the policeman thug Fumero, but who maintains a wonderfully positive and chirpy (not to mention lascivious) attitude to life.

Zafon creates a good mystery right from the start of the book, and as his cast of characters expands and interacts the mystery deepens, the sense of suspense is maintained right up to the conclusion of the story. A thoroughly enjoyable book so broad in its scope that it will appeal to readers of half a dozen genres and disappoint none.

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