The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Reviewed Oct 2018)

This was another book that polarised opinion, with 4 out of 5 being the most common award but there was also a bunch of 2’s.

(review from The Observer)
Buried in the back streets of Barcelona lies the Cemetery of Lost Books - a mausoleum for out-of-print works, salvaged by the bibliophiles of the city. There, 10-year-old Daniel Sempere discovers a book called The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax.

Daniel is a believably awkward teenager - compassionate (he rescues a former prisoner, Fermín Romero de Torres, from life on the streets), but naive and romantically inept..

Zafón convincingly conjures two worlds here. The main setting is Daniel's Barcelona, grumbling its way through the postwar dictatorship.

Fittingly for such a celebration of the imagination, the translation is provided by Robert Graves's daughter Lucia (in Spain Zafón's original has been rapturously received). To her credit, the language and mood remain intricate and beguiling - there is no awkwardness in translation. In fact, everything about The Shadow of the Wind is smooth. The language purrs along, while the plot twists and unravels with languid grace.

Yet despite these strengths it still feels that there is something missing from this book. The medley of genres (mildly supernatural thriller, against-the-odds love story and period coming-of-age saga) never quite fuses into a satisfying whole.

Having been tantalised with hints of Julián's life, we suddenly receive the full story through a deus ex machina (a post mortem letter of credibility stretching length), which removes all of the mystery and much of the suspense. Zafón's novel is atmospheric, beguiling and thoroughly readable, but ultimately lacks the magic its early chapters promise.