"The Angel's Game:" Zafón returns with a deal-with-the-devil mystery
Carlos Ruiz Zafón's "The Angel's Game" is a prequel to the author's best-selling "The Shadow of the Wind," a novel of ideas and a rip-roaring Gothic Mystery. Zafón reads tonight at the Seattle Public Library.
Seattle Times book editor
Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The author of "The Angel's Game" will discuss his book in conversation with book editor Mary Ann Gwinn at 7 p.m. today in the Microsoft auditorium of The Seattle Public Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle. Copresented by the Washington Center for the Book and the Elliott Bay Book Co.; free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com; or 206-386-4636 or www.spl.org).
The book is getting a pummeling in the 21st century — futurists and high-techers keep trying to count it out. Now comes a dark and stormy tribute to its enduring power in the guise of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's "The Angel's Game" (Doubleday, 470 pp., $26.95), a rip-roaring Gothic mystery and novel of ideas.
Zafón's fans are legion in this country, in Spain and Europe — according to his publisher, his previous novel, "The Shadow of the Wind," has sold 12 million copies worldwide. "The Shadow of the Wind" was also a hymn to books, reading and their power to transform lives, for good or ill — it introduced The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a labrynthian vault under Barcelona that provided a resting place for every book that has ever been written.
The Cemetery makes an appearance in "The Angel's Game," as does the bookshop Sempere & Sons. Set primarily in Barcelona in the 1920s, "The Angel's Game" is a prequel to "The Shadow of the Wind," set in the same city in post-World-War II. That book's legions of readers are forewarned — "Angel" is grimmer and considerably bloodier than "Shadow."
As the book opens in 1917, David Martín is 17, a down-on-his-luck Barcelona writer and budding journalist. An orphan since his father was murdered, David is forced by necessity to subvert his lofty literary ambitions in the service of writing a series of pulp novels in the macabre Grand Guignol tradition.
Then a mysterious stranger named Andreas Corelli, a close relative of the stranger in Mark Twain's book of the same name and every other deal-with-the-devil tale you've ever read, presents a proposal to Martín — write a book that will create a perfect narrative for a religion. In essence, his assignment is to create a mythical story that will seduce the masses into belief. The mortal medical condition Martín suffers from goes into remission, and a fortune is placed in his bank account.
And off we go.
This novel operates on so many levels, a brief review can't quite do justice to its many layers. It's a critique of how the commercial demands of publishing can subvert talent. It's a robust platform for debate on the meaning and purpose of religion. It's a story of forbidden love, and a gothic horror tale, as one by one, Martín's enemies are dispatched by his "protector" by increasingly horrific methods. But its gruesome episodes are leavened by many moments of human warmth and humor.
It's also a love poem to Barcelona (and its signature architect, Antoni Gaudí), and a tribute to Charles Dickens. Martín's most prized volume is a copy of "Great Expectations," and several characters from that story are transfigured by the author for his own. Just as London was a virtual character in Dickens' novels, so are the grand architectural excesses and claustrophobic slums of Barcelona.
Zafón, a former children's book writer, has constructed this novel in short, punchy chapters, many of which feature cliffhanger endings. Its magical qualities require a certain suspension of disbelief... but what are books for, if not to stretch the limits of imagination? "The Angel's Game" will keep you glued to your deck chair. It may give you nightmares, but if this book was meant to be a testament to how a book can engage the imagination like nothing else, Zafón's mission can be truly called accomplished.
Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or email@example.com.
Mary Ann Gwinn appears on Classical KING-FM's Arts Channel at www.king.org/pages/4216533.php
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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