Only one this month; retrenchment and associated angst took a big bite out of my reading time. I’ll be back on track in March.

The Angel’s Game (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Written six years after the best-selling The Shadow of the Wind (see December books), this new novel by Zafon not only surpasses expectations but has become the fastest selling book in Spanish publishing history.

It takes us back to the murky streets of Barcelona and the even murkier intrigues of its central characters. As in the previous book, there’s murder, mayhem, mistaken identity and doomed love – all the ingredients for another gripping tale, set this time in the turbulent 1920s. Although not a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind, we revisit some familiar places: the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and an earlier generation of a father-and-son team at the ever-welcoming Sempere & Sons bookshop on the Calle Santa Ana.

The protagonist, a writer called David Martin, strikes a Faustian bargain with the unnatural Andreas Corelli, a reclusive publisher who wants Martin to write a book like no other and for which he will not only be paid a fortune but regain his failing health. Creepy things begin to happen: there’s the mystery surrounding the gloomy house Martin rents; the parallels between his life and that of the previous owner; and Martin’s growing alarm at the nature of the deal he has made. Tainting the action is the cold-blooded soul of a city that Zafon describes as if she were a living character.

Light relief comes in the form of an effervescent teenager, Isabella, who inveigles herself into Martin’s home and eventually his heart. In return for writing instruction she keeps house and some semblance of normality as the author’s grip on reality unravels. We realise as the story unfolds that Isabella is destined to marry ‘young Sempere’ who we met in Shadow as the ageing father of the narrator, Daniel. The stories are separate, but in this way Zafon cleverly forges the links in the chain of memory than binds any family.

Once again, I couldn’t put the book down until I’d read all 441 pages, although I did think, around page 300, that the text was starting to drown in complexity and melodrama. But what the hell; it’s such well-written melodrama, flawlessly translated by Lucia Graves, that you keep going until you reach an ending that leaves you wondering whether you missed the ending, or if there is such a thing as an ending at all …

Categories: On my shelf

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