The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Just shy of excellent. For as many books as there are whose setting is inconsquential or invented as representations of a concept (like Hardy's Wessex), there are as many for which the setting is not just the setting but an integral character (eg Dicken's London). This book takes the reader into a marvelously gothic Barcelona in between the World Wars, where vice and survival are so entwined, one cannot achieve one without battling the other. Ruiz Zafon's descriptions of the city and its architecture create a new horror, where the buildings themselves are alive and leering down from above. David Martin's tower mansion is as much a character in the story as any of the humans. It's spindly and hulking, secretive, mysterious, foul. The thought of the characters, even the damned ones, sleeping there is enough to raise the hairs on the back of the neck. There is a vague whiff of The Master and Margarita about this story, but without the playfulness.
Where it falls short:
It's heavy-handed in its condemnation of religion - there isn't as much nuance here as a truly great novel would employ and which I think Ruiz Zafon thinks he put in.
**SORT OF SPOILERS AHEAD**
David skulks away into hiding without notifying the proper authorities after witnessing death after death after death. Too many for any plausibility. And yet he wonders why he is under suspicion. This is bizarre. Surely he should want to confide in SOMEONE, even if not the detective and his muscle.
There is no resolution over David's novel, nor any cohesive understanding of its commission or the mystery of Andreas Corelli (ie is he a figment of David's imagination / conscience or an actual supernatural entity?). In fact, the ending feels very much like Ruiz Zafon reached a point where he forgot why he was writing or like he had a concept but not an outline when he started writing. It doesn't end up going anywhere.
Lastly, and this is minor but highly annoying. David takes Lux Aeterna out of the book cemetery, charged with protecting it at all costs. And then he throws it into the fire with no consequences at all. Why have this mysterious secret society with mystical rules and magical bookshevlves, if nothing happens when the rules are broken? He even returns there at the end of the book and is welcomed. This annoyed me no end!
Ruiz Zafon obviously has an excellent imagination. He needs to corral it and not rely on publisher's deadlines.
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