The whole of Barcelona stretched out at my feet and I wanted to believe that when I opened those windows — my new windows — each evening its streets would whisper stories to me, secrets in my ear, that I could catch on paper and narrate to whomever cared to listen…
In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man, David Martin, makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city’s underworld. But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house lie photographs and letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner.
Like a slow poison, the history of the place seeps into his bones as he struggles with an impossible love. Close to despair, David receives a letter from a reclusive French editor, Andreas Corelli, who makes him the offer of a lifetime. He is to write a book unlike anything that has ever existed — a book with the power to change hearts and minds. In return, he will receive a fortune, and perhaps more. But as David begins the work, he realizes that there is a connection between his haunting book and the shadows that surround his home.
After reading The Shadow of The Wind and really loving it and adding it to my list of favourite novels of all time, I was looking forward to delving back into the world of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and Zafón’s atmospheric and gothic Barcelona. While all the books in the series can be read alone or in any order, which I really love – this is basically a prequel of sorts to The Shadow of The Wind, featuring a few characters that are in that novel but is more focused on a different set of characters. Did it live up to the first book? Not really, but it has it’s own merits, as well as it’s fair share of flaws.
This novel follows David Martin, a young aspiring writer who works for one of Barcelonas newspapers, usually relegated to minor stories and editing, he thinks he may never get the shot to write what he truly wants to. One day, however, his editor decides to give him a chance after which he starts writing a lurid serial with sensationalist themes and a pulp fiction feel. Alongside his pursuits as a writer, are his complicated relationships with his mentor Pedro Vidal and the beautiful Cristina Sagnier, who is his ward. As David gets older, he continues to write with little critical success, until one day a mysterious benefactor by the name of Andreas Corelli expresses interest in his work and commissions him to write a book. With a series of odd and sinister coincidences and strange events, David begins to question this agreement…
My favourite thing about this novel was undoubtedly the writing itself, Zafón has such a way with words and such a unique flair. He is able to do something remarkable with his stories, in that they have so many layers, twists and turns but they all originate from something pretty simple; the desire to tell an interesting story. I also love how sensitively and eloquently Zafón expresses certain sentiments, especially when it comes to the love of books, it’s indicative of how much he clearly enjoys them as much as his readers do and this genuine quality really comes across.
“Every book has a soul, the soul of the person who wrote it and the soul of those who read it and dream about it.”
As well as the writing, I loved returning to Barcelona through his unique lens. Zafón’s Barcelona is one of beautiful little streets and avenues, passageways and crumbling old mansions. A Barcelona of clandestine meetings between star-crossed lovers and danger around each corner. The way he describes the city lends itself so well to the story and just adds an immeasurable amount of atmosphere to the book. I also loved how The Cemetery of Forgotten Books features again, I love the whole concept of this place and I wish it was real so badly! I like to think a place like it exists somewhere.
“I stepped into the bookshop and breathed in that perfume of paper and magic that strangely no one had ever thought of bottling.”
It’s more disappointing then that some elements of the actual plot or storyline just didn’t work for me at all. While the novel starts off in such a promising way, it just meanders and takes some seriously confusing turns to the point where I grew disinterested in what was happening and it felt like an ordeal to get through the rest of the book. I grew kind of tired of not knowing what the heck was happening the majority of the time. Some mystery is of course needed and enjoyable but this book kind of gave me a headache you know? In terms of the pacing as well it was just all over the place, really slow at certain points and a mile a minute at others.
Overall, The Angel’s Game was beautifully written and deeply atmospheric but sadly was just lacking for me in terms of some of the story elements. It felt like a rather confusing maze where the beginning is exciting and you want to crack the mystery but gradually it becomes more and more convoluted. I would still recommend reading this novel because of the prose and setting alone but keep in mind it’s a bit of a long slog at times.
Until next time,