Buy, Borrow, Bypass: [Carlos Ruiz Zafon Edition]

This is a single-author edition of Buy, Borrow Bypass, because I’ve had a single-author brain for a week or more now. Spare a moment of pity for all the poor souls around me who haven’t been able to escape me yammering on for ages now. Let me walk you through it.


The Shadow of the Wind

shadow of the windAs with many people, I first encountered the work of Carlos Ruiz Zafon through his first novel for adults, The Shadow of the Wind. It’s a remarkable novel about a young man named Daniel who acquires a novel called The Shadow of the Wind…but when he tries to learn more about the author of the book, he discovers that a dark and menacing figure has been systematically destroying every piece of the author’s work. Daniel is drawn into a fascinating world of madness, tragedy, old and new romance, and intrigue. It’s an exciting book. I read it at first with casual pleasure, but as the book slowly began drawing together all of the threads it leisurely laid out, I found myself reading in a rush, staying up late just to finish it. It’s a beautiful, tragic love story at its heart, and by the time I had finished it, I was in love with Carlos Ruiz Zafon. He writes the blend of character-driven gothic fiction (bordering on literary, bordering on horror, bordering on magic) that draws me to writers like Jorge Luis Borges, or the films of Guillermo del Toro.

Verdict: Buy



The Angel’s Game

angelThe Angel’s Game was Ruiz Zafon’s second adult novel, a follow-up of sorts to Shadow of the Wind. It’s a prequel, in theory, in the sense that it takes place in the years before Shadow of the Wind, but the word “prequel” suggests a series order here where none exists. There will be four books in this cycle when it’s all done, and you can begin reading with any of them, in any order. Ruiz Zafon likens the series to a labyrinth with multiple doors, and I love that.

This one is the story of a hack thriller writer named David Martin who is approached by a mysterious – and a bit menacing – publisher who offers him a staggering amount of money to work solely for him for a year. The problem is that the publisher might be dangerous, David Martin’s sanity is crumbling away rapidly, and it seems there may have been writers before him working on projects just like this, and where are they now?

The Angel’s Game has similarities to Shadow of the Wind, in that it too deals with old and new love, the world of books, a dark menacing presence, and the city of Barcelona, which Ruiz Zafon paints with startling vividness. But where Shadow of the Wind was a tragic love story at its core, The Angel’s Game is the tragic story of one man’s gradual mental and physical collapse. Oh, there are tragedies aplenty (love stories and otherwise) throughout the book, but that isn’t its focus. As a result, it’s a much darker book. Of the two, though, it’s my favorite so far. Astonishingly powerful and exciting.

Verdict: Buy


The Prince of Mist

the-prince-of-mist-by-carlos-ruiz-zafonAlthough The Shadow of the Wind was his first adult novel – and the first book to garner massive international acclaim – Carlos Ruiz Zafon wrote four young adult novels that were published first. They were caught in a legal disaster and are only now appearing in print. Of the four, The Prince of Mist is the first, his very first novel, and the latest of his books that I’ve read.

Facing approaching war, a watchmaker moves his family out of Bacelona and to a small town, where an old house waits for them on a beach. The story of the slight book follows Max Carver, who with his sister and a friend named Roland, discovers first a mysterious garden filled with stone statues (one of them of a clown), a sunken ship off the coast named the Orpheus, and an old lighthouse keeper who tells a story of old tragedy, but with important details left out.

This is a small, simple book, and it doesn’t begin to hint at the power of Ruiz Zafon’s writing, which we’ll see later in his adult novels. The story is simplistic, everyone’s motivations and realizations are carefully stated at all times, the plot is neatly revealed with little issue, and all of the description reads very much like someone writing for a movie.

That said…this is still Carlos Ruiz Zafon, an exciting and inventive novelist with a lot of good ideas, so even his weakest work is a pleasure to read. It’s a brisk 200-page book, a light palate-cleanser between longer works, perhaps. My only hesitation with his young adult novels is, I suspect someone coming to them and expecting anything like his adult works might be very disappointed. Particularly if they don’t know these are earlier works.

Verdict: Borrow


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