Tuesday, 26 February 2019

What I'm reading: The cemetery of unforgettable books


Carlos Ruiz Zafon: THE LABYRINTH OF THE SPIRITS



The Shadow of the Wind was one of those books that ‘blew me away’, much as John Fowles’s The Magus did in my teens and, much later, Salman Rushdie’s Shame and Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. These were novels which seemed almost a reinvention of the storyteller’s art, taking fiction in new directions.

The Shadow of the Wind has become a quartet with the splendid overall title of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. After 18 years the series concludes with The Labyrinth of the Spirits. This – 800 pages - has taken me much longer to read than the others. The ‘magic’ that drew readers in their millions to Shadow is still there, though perhaps a little diluted this time.

As well as continuing the story of Daniel and Bea Sempere, the Barcelona bookshop proprietors, and their larger-than-life friend Fermin in the 1950s and beyond, Labyrinth introduces a new heroine, Alicia Gris, physically and mentally scarred in Spain’s civil war and grimly pursuing Mauricio Valls, a minister in Franco’s regime who formerly directed a brutal prison for political dissidents. The monster Valls is kidnapped and treated to some overdue rough justice. Alicia has a hard time catching up with him.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Towards the end of the novel Zafon unveils his literary ‘alter ego’ whose mentor stresses the importance not only of writing but of re-writing. Ironically, this epic novel could have done with a bit more rewriting. Many scenes are very overwritten and some of the dialogue is larded with clunky humour that seems to be channelling Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane. But Zafon’s insightful way with words has not entirely deserted him: phrases like “the perfume of broken souls” fairly jump off the page.

This quartet is a magnificent achievement and its conclusion is sure to resonate with Zafon’s multinational legions of admirers. Salud y fuerza!