I opened this book expecting a novel similar to The Shadow of the Wind. That was silly of me, and The Angel's Game is very different. The story is much darker and uses many more supernatural elements. There are sections that you read and then think you must have dreamed as they are barely ever alluded to again. There is a great deal of physical violence and disturbing psychological drama. It is an angry book, full of theological debates and the hard truth that sometimes, things just don't end perfectly. There are so many characters- and some characters with many personae- that it is easy to get confused. In fact, I must admit, I'm not entirely sure exactly what happened in the last fifty pages or so. I feel like the writing just kept going and when you thought things were being resolved, it ended up they were not, and then you were right back in the midst of the teeming, complicated plot once more.
But wow, what a writer. From the first page, you are once again immersed in Ruiz-Zafon's writing style. He is so atmospheric. The Barcelona I visited some years ago, that was light and bright and full of fun architecture, is here transformed into a Gothic vision of darkness and depression and cruelty. Ruiz-Zafon is masterful at creating a sense of place in his books. He knows his way around Barcelona with his eyes closed, and the city is just as much a character in the book as anyone else.
The Angel's Game is in a different vein entirely than The Shadow of the Wind, but the same themes (and at least two characters) resonate in both. Most importantly, both novels detail the power that books can have in our lives, the voids they fill within us, and the myriad methods by which they can mold us- for better or for worse.
When I first opened my copy of "The Angel's Game", I could barely wait to read it. I'd enjoyed "The Shadow of the Wind" so much that the idea of another book about books, and forbidden loves and obsession (with just the gentlest seasoning of snarky social commentary) - seemed a gift beyond measure.
And when the first page offered up the following sentence, "Don Basilo was a forbidden-looking man with a bushy moustache who did not suffer fools and who subscribed to the theory that the liberal use of adverbs and adjectives was the mark of a pervert or someone with a vitamin deficiency," my enthusiasm grew.
Which is, of course, my way of easing into my disappointment in this book. True, my expectations were too great, but while I enjoyed "The Angels' Game", I felt it took on a bit too much and lost some of the main threads that "Shadow of the Wind" wove so masterfully.
The first 2/3 of the book contained everything I was looking for. The lush descriptions of Barcelona, of the characters that inhabit her, the rising crescendo of the plot. All kept me turning the pages. Here, too, I found the most insightful comments...the ones that are spoken in a fictional 1920's Spain but seem just as fitting in today's world.
"...like all wars, was fought in the name of God and country to make a few men who were already far too powerful when they started it, even more powerful."
And even truer, "What a mess the world is in," cried the man, reading the news in his paper. "It seems that in the advanced stages of stupidity, a lack of ideas is compensated for by an excess of ideologies."
I am realizing as I go through my notes that I enjoyed these side notes almost more than the main story of the book. The main character, David Martin, is commissioned to write a book for which "people will live and die". He is set with the task of creating a basis for a new religion, and as such, looks at those that have been created before, trying to find their commonalities and the hook, if you will, that drew in the followers.
His employer in that endeavor, comes with the requisite scent of sulfur, and was very reminiscent (to me) of Robert DeNiro in "Angel Heart", fingernails and all. He also comes with a full serving of cynicism that was immensely enjoyable.
"An intellectual is usually someone who isn't exactly distinguished by his own intellect," Corelli asserted. "He claims that label to compensate for his own inadequacies. It's as old as that saying: tell me what you boast of and I'll tell you what you lack. Our daily bread. The incompetent always present themselves as experts, the cruel as pious, sinners as excessively devout, usurers as benefactors, the small-minded as patriots, the arrogant as humble, the vulgar as elegant and the feeble-minded as intellectual."
And later, "You should publish tourist guides instead of religious texts," I suggested. "It comes to the same thing, more or less."
The last 1/3 of the book, though, is where I felt it faltered. The plot becomes very wound up, the characters become less distinguishable from one another, and there is more blood spilled than seems exists in the body of the book. And the underlying draw, the idea that books, that words can have souls, that the printed page contains magic and power, seems forgotten. "...the perfume of paper and magic that strangely no one had ever thought of bottling" dissipates until it is but a memory, save for one scene near the end that feels a bit tacked on.
I love books. I love books about books. I enjoyed "The Angel's Game" but felt a different kind of sadness when I turned the last page. Instead of feeling a loss for what was finished, I felt a loss for what could have been.
I will still eagerly await the next book by Carlos Ruiz Zafon...but hope there are more "Shadows" in it than "Angel's".
Anyone who has never read Zafon really should. It's rare for an author to have a way with words as he does and what makes his ability all the more amazing is the knowledge that these are works in translation. I can only imagine what a wonder his books must be in their original Spanish and his writing is so beautiful that it makes me want to learn the language simply so I can read his works in the original.
I read and loved "The Shadow of the Wind" and when my husband asked me if this book was better, I thought for a moment and told him I thought it was as good. It's hard to really judge which is better as this work is quite different from "The Shadow of the Wind".
Part of what really drew me into this work were its uncanny similarities to the works of Poe. Zafon imbues the very city of Barcelona with such menace that it seems like a beast, hulking over its inhabitants. So many of the pages are suffused with a sense of dread and there are scenes in the book that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. There are definitely more elements of the supernatural in this work than I remember there being in "The Shadow of the Wind", but that's not to say that this is a ghost story.
At its heart, this book is about obsession. Zafon delves into some pretty heavy questions about the nature of human obsessions with everything from faith and religion to literature to love. In reading about David's obsessions, it is easy for the reader to reflect on his or her own forms of obsession. Zafon has created a deeply psychological work that leaves the reader wondering just how reliable David Martin's narrative really is. How many of the horrors that he experiences are the product of his own imagination?
His characters are complex and well-drawn and they exist in varying shades of gray. Even though David is the hero, it's difficult at times to really reconcile with his behavior. He is certainly a dark hero and this is a dark novel. Zafon excels at plumbing the depths of the human psyche, at examining the question of what it is that motivates us to act as we do. Some characters are more admirable than others but very few are pure of heart. They are like actual living, breathing people--usually propelled by their own desires and their own sense of self-interest.
This is truly a very dense work, one that will leave the reader thinking long after the last page has been read. Zafon's gift is singular and he rewards his reader with a story that will stick with him or her for a long time.
I was delighted just now to read the interview Amazon posted with the author, Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I had no idea that that he had thought about writing one book about a fictional universe, and instead broke it up into four stories. Shadow of the Wind ("the nice good girl in the family") is one of those stories, and The Angel's Game, ("the wicket, gothic stepsister") is another.
There is such a wonderful and strange feel to both these books. If I were to try to describe the tone of The Angels Game, I would say it was like the movie Pan's Labyrinth, but with funny and witty repartee. (As much as that may make your head spin.) This world is eerie, dreamlike, and fantastical.
Short, no spoiler summary:
We return again to the dark, mysterious Barcelona of Zafon's imagination. Whereas Shadow of the Wind starts off in 1945, this story begins almost 3 decades earlier.
David Martin is a young journalist and aspiring novelist who works for a small newspaper that has "seen better days". He is befriended by a a wealthy coworker named Pedro Vidal, who sees the young man's potential and helps him get an assignment writing an action-packed series about the dark side of Barcelona.
David is not physically well, and he is in love with someone who may or may not love him back. He finds himself strangely drawn to a sinister towering residence, and he ends moving in. David also receives, and accepts, a lucrative offer from a mysterious publisher to write a book that will make people want to live or die. Things start to go wrong, people are dying, and David tries to find out what's going on.
And of course, we revisit that mystical, wondrous place, The Cemetery of Lost Books, as well as the Sampere and Son bookshop.
Lastly, there is an epilogue - which takes place in 1945. The same year Shadow of the Wind, begins. (And we see another example of how this story ties into that one.)
It is difficult to do a decent summary of this book, mainly because Zafon is such a masterful storyteller, and there is so much that happens. That is one of the reasons that this book gets 5 stars - because it is such a rich, amazing, imaginative, gothic world, replete with villains and heroes, joy and horror.
One of the things you may not realize, hearing the various summaries of this book, is that it is incredibly funny, and has some of the best banter I've read anywhere. Truly laugh-out-loud funny. That's part of what makes this such a fulfilling reading experience - you're laughing one moment and horrified at the next.
Also know that there is a wonderful "twist" in the story, that comes close to the end.
If I were to rate my favorite between Shadow of the Wind, and this novel, I'd have to pick the first one. (And you can read either book first - you don't have to read them in any order.) If I were to have any criticisms of this book, it's that the book can get a bit confusing in spots, and people are going to have varying opinions on whether or not they like how it ends.
In conclusion, I am thrilled knowing that there will be two more books in this series. I think Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a masterful good old-fashioned storyteller, and I anxiously await his next novel so that I can be transported back to this imaginative world that has completely charmed me. I rarely reread books, but I would like to to do that when this series is completed, so that I could have a greater appreciation of how they are all interconnected and part of one great story.
In 1920s Barcelona, David Martín is struggling to get by as a writer and longing to be noticed by the lovely Cristina, daughter of his mentor's chauffeur. When David discovers that his true métier is for Gothic, sensational stories, he comes to the attention of the mysterious publisher Andreas Corelli, who offers him a fortune to write a shocking book which will be the keystone to a new religion. His involvement with Corelli, however, does not lead David to fame and fortune, but deeper and deeper into a maze of fantastical, dangerous events.
I loved Zafón's previous book, _The Shadow of the Wind_, to which this is a prequel of sorts, but alas, I was disappointed in _The Angel's Game_. I still love Zafón's very vivid, visual, almost Hitchcockian style -- I noticed myself visualizing scenes in detail more than I usually do -- and the use of books as keys to the story, and I appreciated the subtle links with _The Shadow of the Wind_. However, I did not love the characters; I found David selfish and Cristina nearly a non-entity. I don't require that a novel's characters be perfectly admirable, or they would be boring, but I do want them to have more depth and at least some likeability. (I did really like David's devoted friend Isabella, and had more of the book been about her, I would have liked it more.) The plot veers wildly about and finally devolves into an ending which simply baffled me. In the end, though the lush writing and tense action kept me reading to the end, I found _The Angel's Game_ more style than substance.
on June 15, 2009
"The Angel's Game" begins magnificently, with an evocation of the Faustian bargain made by authors seeking publication. A writer who accepts a few coins, or even words of praise, in exchange for his writing, Zafon writes, "is doomed and his soul has a price." While this sounds like hyperbole, we soon find the principle working its way literally into the life of a poor but talented author named David Martin in early twentieth-century Barcelona.
Martin is a Dickensian hero, abandoned by his mother and stuck with a brutish father who scorns his love for books. When his father administers a savage beating after he discovers David with a copy of "Great Expectations" (another rather obvious nod to Dickens), David flees to the Sempere bookstore, featured in Zafon's previous novel "The Shadow of the Wind." There he finds a friend and confident in the elder Sempere, who introduces him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, also featured in Zafon's earlier novel.
David later finds work at a newspaper, where through happenstance his gothic pulp writing becomes serialized, earning him the jealousy of his fellow journalists. He becomes a successful author writing under a pseudonym, but his own literary prose, though excellent, is ignored by the public and stinted by a crooked publishing firm. David languishes in obscurity, even as the public enjoys his pulp fiction without knowing who he really is.
Enter the angel. This mysterious and dark Satanic being heals David of a fatal illness and offers him a spectacular sum of money to write a single book. The book, the angel instructs him, will start a new religion that will captivate the souls of men.
Great stuff, so far. Then the violence starts. David's publishers, who are reluctant to release him from his exclusive contract and threaten legal action against him, are found savagely murdered. We sense that the increasingly creepy angel is involved. David moves into a weird old house that may be haunted. There are stories of another writer a generation before, also with the initials D.M., who may have had previous dealings with the dark angel.
The plotting proliferates and takes a noir turn, with dirty doings at the highest level of Barcelona society and corrupt policemen hired for nefarious ends. As things become more and more complex, however, the novel loses focus. There are hints that David has become an unreliable narrator and that his relationship with the angel may be more complex than it first seemed. But before we can explore this theme, things become so complicated that the last third of the novel, devoted to wrapping things up, seemed to me like running through a jammed plot museum at closing time, noticing a magnificent statue here and an awe-inspiring cuneiform tablet there, but never getting a sense of what it was all supposed to mean.
That problem could be solved, perhaps, by reading through the novel a second time. A worse problem is that near the end, David suddenly becomes an action hero, leaping around, throwing punches, and dispatching burly assailants. Zafon's action scenes are not up to the same caliber as the rest of his beautifully-crafted writing, and they sometimes seemed almost ridiculous to me.
This book is worth reading, for the same reasons as "Shadow of the Wind." It is wonderfully evocative. At times you disappear into the prose. But the Hollywood elements in the last part of the book, coupled with the complexities of the plot and the dissatisfying departure from the book's earlier themes, left me a little disappointed.
I felt cheated and quite angry when I finished this book. This may be due to the book being overhyped. I have not read The Shadow of the Wind, which also received effusive praise. This is probably unfortunate because other reviews indicate it is a better book, but I am so angry with the author I will never read it!
I will start with the one good thing I can say about the book, and why I gave it two stars instead of one. The author did successfully create a sinister character out of the city of Barcelona. I thought making a city into a character was quite an accomplishment. It proves this author is capable of greatness. So why not show that in the rest of the book?
The book starts out telling a Faustian tale of a young author selling his soul to a mysterious character whom I took to be Lucifer himself. So tell us something new about this time-worn tale, I begged the author as I read. I got quite excited when we visited the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, but it was a brief episode and then dropped until another brief mention at the end of the book. Such a disappointment! We spent so much time with our young author moping around - I would have enjoyed more exploration of the Cemetery.
So after hundreds of pages of moping around Barcelona, our young author suddenly springs into action and races through a frenzied ending which explains nothing. Was it all a delusion?
The title rings true. The author is playing games with the reader, and the joke is on us. I was not amused.
I first saw this book a few months ago in a bookstore in Buenos Aires. When I read Shadow a few years ago, I had resolved to learn Spanish so that I could savor it in the original. With my Spanish reading comprehension still at picture book level, for the last few months I'd been looking forward to the English translation of Angel.
Angel's Game has a riveting first paragraph, and I was turning pages for the first 100 pages or so, trying to keep track of a dozen or more important characters, staying on top of the various plot points that kept popping into the narrative, assuming they would continue to thread through the story (most were dead ends), all while trying (and failing) to maintain mental maps of Barcelona and the protagonist's maze of a home.
The journey slowed down in the middle 200 or pages, brightened by the relationship between David and his mentee Isabella. A relationship that I expected to see developed; instead, it abruptly terminated as the middle section of the book dissolved into the concluding chapters.
I read the last 150 pages without stopping, testament to the book's ability to grab me and the agility of the writing, which became almost cinematic. New characters began appearing, old ones reappeared in new guises, and red herrings sprouted everywhere as our protagonist scurried around Barcelona and beyond, following up on crazy quilt clues and tracking down information in accordance with a strategy that was never disclosed to the reader. The bodies started piling up as my patience diminished and my hopes for a tour de force resolution grew.
That never happened. The book lost all shape and sense, and at the end I understood even less than I had at the beginning. Was David crazy? Was his terminal brain cancer to blame? Were paranormal forces at work? Was it all a bad dream? In a movie, a director can get away with these kinds of antics, where sheer velocity overwhelms the senses by piling on the chases, escapes, surprises, and gore. In a book, this sort of technique is much less effective. If this book were a genre page-turner potboiler, I might not be feeling so cheated now, but I expected more from the author of Shadow.
In his follow-up prequel to Shadow of the Wind, Zafon continues to astonish me with his intoxicating prose and enigmatic story. He explores the more shadowy aspects of morality with a blend of valiantly Sphinx-like characters and cretins that go bump in the night. The pages flew. It is like he handpicked every word for flavor and saliency.
In 1917 Barcelona, David Martin is a struggling writer working for a second-rate newspaper in a third-rate position of employment. When the rich, talented Pedro Vidal opens doors of influence and opportunity for him, David embarks on a career of some merit, writing penny dreadfuls for the newspaper and maintaining a friendship with his new avuncular mentor and patron. Through Vidal, he meets and is mesmerized by Cristina Sangier, who is Vidal's secretary and the chauffeur's daughter. Subsequently, in an act of altruism toward Vidal, Cristina and David form a strong working bond with each other that becomes like an opera to a Gordian Knot.
David also becomes a mentor--to the young and wily Isabella, with whom he develops a deep fondness. She has native writing talent but no guidance. Their insouciant banter adds levity to the novel and acts as counterpoint to the melodrama. The eventual gravitas of Isabella's character will echo long after you close the pages of the book.
The pilot light and flame-thrower of the novel and David's nemesis is the sartorial and subterranean Andreas Corelli, the Jungian shadow of archetypes. He makes David a beguiling offer that will make him a wealthy man. It requires him to write a most extraordinary doctrine.
David is plagued by surreal and erotic dreams that take him through a labyrinth of streets, alleys, and dwellings. These dreams are more like Carl Jung's unconscious and subconscious states that impel David's character and intensify the sinuous story.
But rather than try and give a detailed description of this highly complex novel and its events, I recommend immersion. You will be hooked by page two, and a goner soon after that. The Angel's Game is like a Dali painting with Escher strokes, an amalgam of impressionistic and surreal textures overlaid with Penrose stairs. The city and streets of Barcelona is also a character with a visceral, beating heart. And, as in Shadow of the Wind, the bookshop of Sempere and Sons and The Cemetery of Forgotten Books figure importantly as touchstones for the protagonist and Rosetta stone for the story. Zafon, throughout the book, conveys that every book has a soul that deepens with each reader. The beauty of this belief reflects an enigmatic antagonism to patriarchal and suffocating religious beliefs and, I think, a lucid compass to his themes.
The ending is circumspect to some degree. But the more I meditate on it, and the deeper into my consciousness I go with it, the more it makes sense as a paradox--and a portal to Zafon's next magnum opus.
PS Lovers of this novel can expand their relationship to this story with its accompanying music! I was so happy to discover this. It has Zafons stamp of approval (it is part of the book's website). Google the book's website--I tried to leave it on my review but Ammy edited it out.
on July 17, 2009
I'll get this out of the way first: The Shadow of the Wind is one of my all-time favorite books. That said, though that fueled my enthusiasm to read The Angel's Game, I never really found myself comparing the two books because I feel that destroys the integrity of the text. (Sorry if that sounded too much like an English teacher -- but I am an English teacher.)
The Angel's Game is NOT a good book. I read it quickly because the first half is quite intriguing and would seem to have set up a great story. That said -- like all the reviewers I didn't want to agree with -- the last third of the novel is just plain dumb. The great plot gets all mucked up in stupid actions and reactions. Perhaps the book's greatest disappointment: any sense of it as a love story. The main characters beloved has ZERO PERSONALITY -- why is he so drawn to her when his young female assistant is so much more intriguing. (Heck, she was the only character I cared about in the whole book.) Zafron's sense of love as a mysterious longing can only go so far. This time it really failed to convince me. This time, I really could have cared less. (Suffice it to say, no tears were shed at the end of Angel's Game.)
In the end, I wish I hadn't read it. But, then again, there was no way I was not going to read the next book written by the author of The Shadow of the Wind. I do hope most readers who loved Zafron's earlier work love this one as much -- reading should always be such a joy -- but I was ultimately terribly disappointed, let down, and forced to agree with all the negative reviews.