The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón. ***1/2
The Shadow of the Wind is an ode to gothic thrillers, love stories, whodunnits, The Phantom of the Opera, the Empire Strikes Back, the people of Barcelona and, most importantly, all of those who treasure literature.
The adventure begins in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, the most overt metaphor for the loss of literature consuming the 21st century (of which there are many).
The protagonist, Daniel, is full of adolescent awkwardness; the journey through his teenage years resonates. Full of empathy and intrigue, Daniel makes for a fantastic focal point around whom the local community ebb and flow.
The novel’s moral compass, Fermín Romero de Torres, is a revelation. Human quote machine, spiritual guardian to Daniel, womaniser extraordinaire and possessor of a fantastically developed appetite for life (and good food). Given a second chance when found in the streets by Daniel, the two characters are the source of huge emotional investment from the reader.
The mystery driving the narrative ticks along at great pace. The real life situations of the local community weave in and out of Daniel and Fermín’s work in his father’s book shop. Their investigations, which in turn lead to love, loss and love again, lead them up many a blind alley. The action that intersperses the romance and mystery is superbly written, and Zafón conjures two very authentic Barcelona’s: aristocracy and nobility rule the first, whilst the Civil War has engulfed the second.
Unfortunately, the phenomenal effort of building the setting and characters is all but destroyed during the big reveal. A 90 page letter from a recently deceased character, to be read only upon their death, reveals all of the mystery.
The investment in the characters for this pay off is gutting, and lazy. The action does pick back up, but by then the magic has dissipated. A shame.