Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spanish Gothic

Last night I finished reading our book club's latest selection, Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

The story starts in Barcelona shortly after the close of the Spanish Civil War, although the narrative skips back to the late nineteenth century, forward to the late 1950s, and in between to various points of interest. The plot is fairly simple.  Daniel, the narrator of most of the novel, discovers an obscure book named Shadow of the Wind, written by an equally obscure author, Julian Carax.  He tries to locate the author's other works and is told that they have been systematically destroyed by a sinister character who tracked them down and burned them.  The rest of the novel is the story of Daniel's attempts to find Carax and unravel his past.

The bare outline of the plot, however, does not convey the atmosphere of the book.  It is rife with the trappings of a potboiler romance - forbidden love, illegitimate children, mysterious villains, improbable coincidences - but the language (even in translation from the original Spanish) is often beautiful, by turns lush description and astringent commentary.  Both qualities make it the spiritual descendant of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Had I read this book in high school, at the time I was first discovering the Bronte sisters, I would have adored it.  In mid-life, in the middle of a disintegrating relationship, I figured out at least two of the plot's would-be surprise twists in advance and am a little impatient with the characters' obsessive love affairs.  Shadow of the Wind was a bestseller in its native Spain;  I will be interested to hear the other book club members' opinions.

"Part detective story, part boy's adventure, part romance, fantasy, and gothic horror, the intricate plot is urged on by extravagant foreshadowing and nail-nibbling tension. This is rich, lavish storytelling, very much in the tradition of Ross King's Ex Libris (2001)."  ~Keir Graff, Copyright © American Library Association

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