I’ve never been to Spain. Italy, France, even Germany but never Spain. We tend to take holidays – when possible – in Sunny (!) Scotland. The weather has actually been pretty good, certainly drier than Wales, whenever we’ve been there. And as for the temperature, well I suppose that nigh on 2 years North of the Wall may have acclimatised me a little. By the way, did you notice my Wall picture at the top of this blog? Just up the road from Hadrian’s finest, and everyone wonders why there’s a picture of a bomb site on my blog. Tch!
Anyway, back to the book. And Spain. Except that part of me wonders whether Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, is a good advert for Spanish tourism. Set in post war Barcelona, it tells the story of a boy, missing his mother, who is taken to a Library where he picks probably the last surviving copy of a book by the mysterious Julian Carfax. He becomes entranced by the novel, and it is through ensuring its survival that the rest of the novel unfolds. He encounters people who want the book, but also those who know the author and the effects that his life has had, and continues to have. Death, humour, adventure and gothic horror ensue. There is a truly comic tramp who comes good, an evil police/intelligence man, a transvestite watchmaker, some struggling fathers, as well as mysterious pursuit and tragedy. There are brave and accepting women giving help, romance and loyalty.
It took me a while to get into this book, I admit, but I found it was worth the effort. Its gothic, relentless narrative is lightened by subplots which do resolve themselves as well as contributing to the overall story. There was some confusing elements, such as the fact that many of the male characters rejoice in 3 names, some of them nearly overlapping. Stylistically there are a few wobbly points, mainly associated with alternative narrators, but the whole is very satisfactory.
A book club I attended gave this book the overall thumbs up, especially those with some knowledge of Spain. The attitudes to women expressed in the novel caused some controversy, as did its setting post civil as well as world war, but generally it was accepted as fascinating, involving book, worth pressing on with if the beginning seems a bit slow. I look forward to reading the associated book, The Angel’s Game, as soon as possible.