I had seen this book around the shops but it was when I saw it reviewed around various blogs, and in particular Biblio Brat that I took a serious interest and finally bought it at The Amorous Cat bookshop last year.
I loved the cover and also the first few lines, which draw you in mercilessly. Also I was intrigued to read a book set in Barcelona, which I have visited and is one of my favourite European cities.
The Barcelona of this novel is a dusty, crumbling, post-civil war city, absolutely perfect for a mystery. The young Daniel is taken to the 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books', a subterranean labyrynth of lost titles known only to those in the book business, by his father who is an antiquarian bookseller. He is told to choose a book and he is drawn to The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. It is here that Daniel's life takes a bizarre and entertaining turn, as he becomes obsessed with finding out more about the author. As he delves deeper he is drawn into a mystery which becomes more complicated and more dangerous at every turn, involving himself and also those around him. This is a plot driven novel that has many exciting sub-plots which come together successfully and in a satisfactory way.
There is a huge warmth emanating from this novel, from the sepia tones of the cover, to the moment the words enter your imagination and take form. A lot of this warmth comes from the characters, all of which are built up with lots of layers making them believable and interesting. I cared about Daniel and his father, I cared about Fermin, the vagrant, and former political activist with an eye for the ladies, who they employ to work in the shop. I also cared about Julian Carax and his story of forgotten love and friendships. By contrast I was rightly repelled by the baddy, Fumero, the corrupt and sadistic Police Chief, and compelled by the shadowy character of Lain Coubert, a character from Carax's book who seems to have come to life.
The settings are fantastic, and there is a walk you can go on around Barcelona to visit some of the fictional and non-fictional landmarks (click here). It also touches on Paris (another of my favourite cities) and Pere Lachaise Cemetary which I love and count as one of my favourite places in the world. So great satisfaction all round here for me.
The thrilling aspects of the story were sufficient without scaring the pants off me, creepy, supposedly haunted and empty mansions, people coming out of the shadows, basement crypts and a run down asylum full of forgotten inmates. All very atmospheric and shiver-inducing to great effect. I found the hairs on my neck standing up more than once in anticipation. I was also moved by some of their relationships, especially the father and son threads that are present in the novel.
There are a lot of surprises along the way, all bound together with humour and a love story or two thrown in. It sounds as if it is trying to be all things to all people but Zafon has pulled it off. I never felt as if it was trying too hard, only that I was enjoying the ride.
A really entertaining, warm and lovely story!
You can read more about the author and his books here.
This book and author complete #7 of the mini challenges for 2009, to read a book by an author you haven't read before. I will include more about the author soon.