Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind
Back at the tiny used bookstore, pressed for time and crowded by not one, but several other customers (literally a crowd in this particular bookstore), I grabbed an offering from the horror section, a 2001 Spanish novel called  The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.  It stood out from all the Kings and Koontzs with an intriguing cover illustration of a foggy street and jacket blurbs with high praise.  I thought I'd stumbled on something interesting.

It wasn't really horror.  There were some Gothic trappings (abandoned mansions, crypts, family secrets, lots of fog), and an attempt at magical realism (which I don't much care for even when it is well done).  Although generally well reviewed, Zafón's first novel is disappointing, 506 pages that strive hard for style and lay on the literary allusions, but end up feeling shallow and highly repetitive.  It starts out when the protagonist Daniel is ten years old (although you couldn't tell this by the way Zafón has him speak), taken by his father to a mysterious book collection to select a rare book of his very own.  He chooses a title by Julian Carax, and very, very slowly begins to find out more about the failed author and to be drawn in to mystery and danger.  Occasionally, Zafón delivers a felicitous or humorous phrase, but overall the characters are thin, I didn't feel for them, and Daniel's excruciatingly slow quest to unravel the mystery of Carax's life made me want to flip to the end after roughly 150 pages.

So much for my hopes of stumbling on something interesting.  It was a little like finding an intriguing shell on the beach and having it break into little pieces when you pick it up, or maybe like opening a nicely wrapped present to find a pair of bargain store socks.

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