THE ANGEL’S GAME by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Book Quote:

“A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that will surely outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie (JUN 15, 2009)

It must be extremely difficult for an author to write a brilliant, literary bestseller and then have to deal with the expectations of a worldwide audience waiting for him/her to do as well, or even better, with the next novel. I congratulate Carlos Ruiz Zafon on his latest offering, The Angel’s Game, a superb work of fiction where magical realism meets gothic horror and romance. Ruiz Zafon pays homage to the art of writing, and to such authors as Charles Dickens, who wrote Great Expectations, a book which plays an important role here, as well as to Charlotte Brontë, with her Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, the couple who gave “Gothic” its name. The reader enters a world which on the surface seems normal, however, there are many elements at play which are magical, illogical and often disturbing.

Before reading The Angel’s Game, I couldn’t help but think about The Shadow Of The Wind, which I read as soon as it came out in 2004 – a wonderful book. Now, five years later, as I began to read this new novel, I couldn’t take my mind off its storyline to even consider or to compare it with its older sibling. Yes, afterwards I recognized that I had already met some of the characters who appear here, including the wonderful “Cemetery of Forgotten Books,” a labyrinthine library where each book awaits someone to choose it and give it another chance to live by making it part of the new owner’s life. The book cemetery is a “sanctuary and a mystery,” and formidable enough to be a character in its own right. “Every volume has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and the soul of those who read it and lived with it and dreamed with it.” This cemetery first appeared in The Shadow Of The Wind, but that is all the two works have in common. The Angel’s Game‘s, storyline is totally new and original.

In Barcelona, late 1920s, protagonist David Martin is a writer and author of “penny dreadfuls,” (lurid serial stories appearing in parts over a number of weeks), for the Voice of Industry newspaper, a periodical which has seen far better days. Martin uses a pseudonym, as he considers himself to be a serious writer and does not want to be identified with the work which earns him his daily keep. Pedro Vidal, the publication’s star writer, is Martin’s mentor. The young man believes that he owes him much for his encouragement and for affording him the opportunity to make a decent living. As Martin’s Grand Guignol-like series takes off, new customers flock to buy the latest installments, and David’s once empty pockets begin to fill. But his colleagues resent his success.

David Martin’s favorite place in the whole city is the Sempere & Sons’ bookshop on Calle Santa Ana. It is here that he took refuge from his troubled childhood. Sr. Sempere, his dear friend for much of his life, gave him the best gift he had ever received – a copy of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Sempere also introduced him to the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books.”

Martin is released from his job at the paper – too much ill will from his colleagues, bad moral, etc., etc. On the recommendation of Vidal, he receives an extremely lucrative offer from a new publishing house to continue writing his stories, a series called “City of the Damned.” Martin signs the contract which offers him more money than he ever thought he would make. It stipulates that he will write, anonymously, segments of the story to appear monthly in hardback editions. Unfortunately, as he is later to learn, the publishers are a bunch of “second-rate fraudsters.” This deal does make him a huge “success” with the public, but he has never written a page with which he was satisfied, and in a few years he will be thirty years-old. His fans don’t even know his real name. And, Christina, the woman he loves is looking for someone worthier to receive her affections.

It is at this time that he receives his first correspondence from Andreas Corelli, a mysterious editor of a French publishing house. The genial Corelli makes Martin an offer which he cannot refuse, but refuse he does…sort of. He is asked to devote an entire year of his life, exclusively, to “working on the greatest story you have ever created: a religion.” The writer is appalled. Apart from the fact that he knows or cares little about organized religion, he is not “tempted to create a story for which men and women would live and die, for which they would be capable of killing and allowing themselves to be killed, of sacrificing and condemning themselves, of handing over their souls.” In return for his work, should he accept, he will receive all that he has ever wanted. Corelli’s initial geniality now takes on a more sinister aspect. David doesn’t refuse outright, but allows that he will give the matter some thought.

He holes up in his gothic-style mansion, topped by a tower that “rises from a facade carved with reliefs and gargoyles.” The house had been closed for years, abandoned, before he bought it, and has a murky and macabre past… as any good goth house would. Here David maniacally writes two great novels – one for Vidal to claim as his own, and one for himself. Vidal’s book is celebrated while David’s is panned. He suffers from terrible, blinding headaches and forgets to eat and sleep.

In dire straits, emotionally and physically, he finally accepts Corelli’s Faustian offer. Then he pays a visit to the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books.” He selects one, “Lux Aeterna,” by “D. M.” Who is this author with the same initials as David’s? The volume appears to be about a new religion. It seems that David Martin is not the first writer to receive the same request from Corelli. What happened to the other’s manuscript, which was obviously not what the editor wanted, or else why hire Martin? As David begins to write, to fulfill his nefarious promise, he discovers that his life seems to parallel that of his predecessor who wrote “Lux Aeterna.” This is a real mystery and quite a deadly one, with several very real corpses. All evidence points to Martin as the guilty party – the prime murder suspect. Soon David’s life begins to resemble those of the characters he creates for his penny dreadful series.

The Angel’s Game kept me riveted to the page. Ruiz Zafon’s gift for remarkable storytelling shines. As one reads his elegant, frequently poetic prose, the theme of the beauty of the written word becomes manifested in the author’s narrative. He paints the city of Barcelona with a dark brush. And his characters are wonderfully original.

The novel’s one weakness is the conclusion. I was disappointed in the facile manner in which all the threads were tied together, but not disappointed enough to rate this fascinating tale anything less than 5 stars.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 396 readers
PUBLISHER: Doubleday (June 16, 2009)
REVIEWER: Jana L. Perskie
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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June 15, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Literary, Mystery/Suspense, Spain, Speculative (Beyond Reality), World Lit, y Award Winning Author

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