Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Warning: reader's review...

Vacation = reading for fun

In the past week, I somehow sneaked in enough reading time to finish the two latest works by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Shadow of the Wind and The Angle's Game. From the get go, especially true for TAG, it is apparent that Zafon admires Dickens. And while I am not a huge fan of Dickens (shhh...keep it a secret that the English teacher is not a fan of Dickens...I will admit that I like the social commentary and wit of Dickens but could do without a few hundred pages worth of the excessive descriptions), I enjoyed reading Zafon. Reading Zafon is like reading a tossed salad of Dickens, Poe, King, Doyle and G. Marquez with just a dash of sexual tension a la Esquivel (only the tension is not executed as well by Zafon as what is accomplished in Like Water for Chocolate).

Both TSotW and TAG are quazi-murder mysteries that take place in Barcelona at the turn of the 20th century. In both novels, the acquisition of a mysterious novel is central to the plot. While at times the tale unfolds in a Sherlock Holmesian fashion, there is plenty of poverty and sex infused with the surreal and macabre that separates Zafon's artistry from Doyle's.

Because of the (not so subtle) celebration of "story", I love the basic concept for both novels. Let's face it: this English teacher is a sucker for the celebration of the transformational powers of words and stories. But let me remind you that I am not a professional critic - I am just a reader.

According to the professionals, there are mixed reviews of Zafon's artistry, and I would have to agree with several points on both sides. For one, I must admit, especially in TSotW (the first novel in what will be a series), there are some literary cracks. Towards the end of TSotW, for example, much of the resolution is clarified in a note that is sent to the main character. After reading more than a chapter's worth of this "letter," I confess that I wondered more than once, "Either this letter is written with very tiny writing, or it is nothing short of fifty pages long. Is it even probable it could have been written by hand in the time frame given"? Wrapping up the plot in a neat little package like that, too, seems to be the easy way out. Another concern about Zafon's style, as seen in TAG, is that even though the plot is more compelling than the first of the series, some of the scenes in TAG are lost or forgotten, the parallel to Great Expectations doesn't always work, and some of the gore is over done.

Still, I can overlook a number of idiosyncrasies of an author if I am overwhelmingly drawn in by the story (even if the plot seems at times to be a bit convoluted - you can thank Dickens for that influence). True for both novels, the plot is nothing less than compelling. Also, Zafon's language is poetic - in particular, the concluding statement of almost every chapter is thought provoking and/or visually enticing.

Overall, particularly if you have diverse literary tastes, I would recommend both The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game.


laughingwolf said...

i'm with you on the overly descriptive stuff, but that had to be in vogue at the time?

bluesugarpoet said...

Definitely for Dickens. Great Expectations, in particular, was written in weekly installments for a journal. No doubt had a word quota to fulfill.

Karen said...

Thanks for the recommendations. I am a mystery fan and a word fan, so these sound like they're for me! I usually read Brit or Scottish detective fiction, but I'll give the Spanish setting a try.

Oh, by the way, I'm a Dickens fan, but I wanted to throw Anna under the train myself. Jump, Anna, jump! Tolstoy just took way too long to get to it....