I had no idea what to expect when I picked up The Shadow of the Wind (2001), number 56 on the BBC book list, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I mentioned to my sister that I had started reading it, and she had an enthusiastic response. I realized then that I was in for a treat with this book.
And despite its corniness and lack of cohesive plot at times, the book was a treat. It was just what I needed to help pull me out of a reading rut I’ve been experiencing for the last few months. The book is a fast-paced literary thriller, one that features a mysterious villain, a vanished author, romance, and intrigue.
Daniel is a young boy in Barcelona, Spain, whose father takes him to the “cemetery of forgotten books.” The keeper of that cemetery tells us: “in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here has been somebody’s best friend” (p. 6). Daniel discovers a novel called The Shadow of the Wind, and he reads it quickly, wanting more from the author, Julián Carax. Daniel learns, “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you” (p. 209). However, he soon learns that Carax’s books are rare, and that somebody has been finding all copies and burning them.
Of course, Daniel must investigate, amid his own young romance and family troubles. As he ventures further into the mystery, the police try to stop him, and he delves into the history and childhood of Carax. We find mysteries and feuds from school days, and all of it takes place at one of the old abandoned mansions in town. The past and the present collide in this old house, and Daniel nearly loses his life.
It is all clichéd, but I enjoyed it. The book reminded me of A. S. Byatt’s Possession, in which authors and literature and romance make a mysterious and lethal combination. We all know in real life that our bookish personalities and our favorite authors are much less exciting, but novels are the right place to fantasize about the ways in which books and their creators could be the subject of espionage, intrigue, and murder. We want to believe that what we find so interesting and exciting could truly be just that in “real” life. Zafón’s novel seems to be a symptom of that, and I suspect that we readers don’t mind. I’d rather read a thriller about forgotten books and a mysterious author, than about former FBI agents and their international adventures.
Despite the thriller aspects of this novel, it has insight into human nature, as all great books do. The comical character and Daniel’s older sidekick in this adventure, Fermín, explains, “Evil presupposes a moral decision, intention, and some forethought. A moron or a lout, however, doesn’t stop to think or reason. He acts on instinct, like a stable animal, convinced that he’s doing good, that he’s always right, and sanctimoniously proud to go around [messing] up . . . anyone he perceives to be different from himself, be it because of skin color, creed, language, nationality” (p. 155).
I enjoyed this book. It isn’t necessarily a favorite, but it was fun. I needed something fun, and I needed to feel the thrill of turning a page or starting a new chapter because I had been left hanging. Such books, while less intellectually demanding, are healing when we need to remember that books are to be enjoyed instead of devoured. I needed to be reminded why I love reading: for the pleasure of it, not for note-taking or for writing an insightful blog post. I need to read to lose myself.
Thanks for a great post, and I love this book.
You’re welcome! It’s a great book for sure.
I just finished this and what a tale, woven backward, forward…and THERE’s A SEQUEL….yah.. umhhhmmm… I know…pure entertainment…
I didn’t know there was a sequel! I’ll have to get it. 🙂
It’s called Angel’s Game.
“I need to read to lose myself”. What a great way to end! Your last paragraph said it all. It’s a statement in itself that we need to explain that reading (in this case, something less intellectually challenging as you say) almost needs a footnote or disclaimer. The book sounds like pure fun. And the secrets you mention about the plot all seem like some of the great ingredients that all literature possesses.
Thanks! I had lost sight of the enjoyable aspects of reading. I have been reading dense theory for the last six months, and it made reading feel like a chore. This book was a nice cure!
As always, your “inside scoop” is priceless, Emily.
I loved this book and the sequel, The Angel’s Game. Pure fun! They remind me of Dan Brown’s books in that I just love being along for the ride, even if I don’t think they are literary masterpieces.
Brown’s books are a great comparison! I’ll have to try the sequel. I didn’t know there was one.
I really love this book! I was so happy to see that you reviewed it. Definitely one of my favourites. Although, I did not like the sequel all that much. It was little too “over the top” (if that’s possible?) for me.
I’ll keep that in mind if I read the sequel. I wonder if I’ll find it too over the top since this one was pushing it for me a little toward the end.
Totally agree–Angel’s Game was pretty crazy. I still recommend reading it–I love the writing and the setting of old-time Barcelona is just gorgeous. I want a creepy old mansion of my own! But I definitely preferred Shadow of the Wind.
I heard somebody say that The Shadow of the Wind will make you want to visit Barcelona. I definitely do!
I’ve been to Barcelona, but I found it more of a party-all-night-pass-out-on-the-beach kind of city than a creepy gothic wonderland. Then again, I was quite young when I went 🙂 I need to go back as a non-21-year-old and do more exploring.
I own this book and yet another one from the same author. Can’t wait to dive in!
P.s – I believe all his books are exceptionally beautiful. :’)
P.p.s – Perfect example of an under hyped book.
Yes. I hadn’t even heard of it, and its title on the BBC list meant nothing to me. I wish I had known more about it when it first came out.
This sounds delicious, and I’m glad you got to enjoy it. 🙂
Thanks! It was. 🙂
I love this book. The whole series is actually really great but this is the best one. The one that comes before, The Angel’s Game, takes on themes of faith and religion and is really quite good, but this is my favourite.
I love what you said about books like this being healing, that they serve to remind us of the pleasure of reading. I find that when I’m in a reading rut (and I was recently – it seemed like everyone I talked to was having this problem), the best thing to do is read something easy, something that’s just fun. This obviously did the trick for you!
Yes it did! And I continue to read fun and easy books. I just needed a HUGE break from academic reading. I may have to try the other book in the series. I didn’t know about it until today!
There’s a third one as well, The Prisoner of Heaven.
I liked this one too and I didn’t know there was a sequel so I’m with you, I’ll have to get it! I’m glad you got a moment to read for fun again. And while we’re on the subject of fun literary thrillers, have you read People of The Book by Geraldine Brooks?
Yes, I have read that one. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much about it. I guess it is time for a reread, especially since I have enjoyed everything I’ve read by Brooks.
It’s a very enjoyable book. I don’t remember too much about it other than I loved reading it, which is really the point.
Right on! The point is to enjoy the ride for sure. This one delivers.
I read this so long ago I didn’t remember it very well, but I know I liked it.
It is a fun one for sure!
Hah! Make a note, Kay! We both liked this one! Yay!! 🙂
I read this several years ago and remember the macabre twists and how it held my attention.
It is one of those books with cliffhanger chapters. It is hard not to keep going!
Great, memorable title. I will need to check this out. Sometimes, you need to escape. I am glad you found the chance. Best wishes, BTG
Thank you! I hope you get a chance, too.
“I need to read to lose myself” — I can understand that feeling. As you articulated in your post, it is such a wonderful feeling to find a literary world in which we can immerse ourselves. Reading The Hunger Games series was like that for me: I read them during my lengthy commute on the train to campus in first year and they were a great distraction.
Those would be a great distraction during a commute! My husband once forgot to get off his train because he was so engrossed in a book. 🙂
oh emily! i tried countless times to send a comment when this was published, and today is the first time to load the entire page with internet fast enough to boot the comment in your direction! years ago a friend asked if i had read this (no) and then much later asked again, ‘did you ever read ‘shadow?’…. last year i spotted the book at a little hostal and asked the owner if i could borrow the book. ‘take it, it’s yours,’ she said… what a great bus companion it made for my ride home (7 hours) … when i finished the book, i wrote my friend and stated, ‘i finally read the book and agree – it was very entertaining and unique!…’
there’s no sign of better internet on the horizon, so perdon if i remain silent! it’s always a pleasure to read your posts! lisa/z
Thank you, Lisa! I’m glad to hear that you read and enjoyed this one. And thanks for being so diligent in trying to comment. I know you are in a place where internet is scarce. I’m lucky to have you reading my blog. 🙂
I originally read the first half of this book in Spanish, then got caught up in the story and had to finish it RIGHT NOW! so I switched to English. I loved it in the original language, but it was pure fun in English.
That would be fun to read it in the original! I am impressed.
I read this book and I like it but I remember it was a hard and slowly reading. It was a bestseller in my country, Spain. I am glad that you enjoyed reading it. Big hug, Emily.
PS: Excuse me for my bad English.
Your English is perfect! You should hear my Spanish, if you want to hear “bad.” 🙂
Quite possibly my favorite series ever!
It is a fun one!
I’ve just read two positive reviews of this book in the same day. I guess I’m meant to read it or something! 🙂
Sounds like a sign!
I love love love his books! The funny thing for me is that this is typically not a genre I would ever pick up, but while working at Borders I was fascinated by The Shadow of the Wind and read it, then immediately inhaled The Angel’s Game. Though I own The Prisoner of Heaven I have yet to make time to read it. I once heard him interviewed immediately after the release of The Angel’s Game and it was quite interesting to hear him describe the “sequencing” (or non-sequencing) of the four books he had planned to write using these characters/settings. For him, a reader should be able to read these in any order with the same amount of enjoyment. He described it as non-linear, but rather 3D experience, in that a reader should be able to enter from any one of four sides and reap the same benefits. I thought it a very apt comparison! Couldn’t agree more: “I’d rather read a thriller about forgotten books and a mysterious author, than about former FBI agents and their international adventures.” You remind me that I really need to create blog posts for these books, too. And, maybe this is one reason I seemingly tend to “really like” or “love” so many of the books I read–I am always anxious to go wherever the author leads me…to another adventure…another land…another time… Ah, yes… 🙂
Yes, that escape is like a drug! I need my fix through books. Thank you for telling me more about the series, and how they are stand alone books. That makes me feel like I would want to read another, without having to do a lot of research or rereading of the first one.
Just read away! 😀