Following the abject disappointment of Possession: A Romance, and wanting a book in which to lose myself, I decided to pick up The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, mainly because he has a bunch of other novels and if I didn’t find him wanting on this occasion, I was set up for reading material until after Christmas.
I’ve actually read The Shadow of the Wind before, and somewhere about the temporary bases of my life, there is a copy of it, probably still sporting a Richard and Judy Book Club sticker. What I remember most about the book is the feeling of exhaustion on completion; a book that I wanted never to stop. What I could not remember was the plot; and maybe this is understandable; I am reasonably sure it is nine or ten years since I read it. Why that gap exists I don’t know; whenever I have seen the book on someone’s bookshelf, I have only felt some sort of distant love for a journey I took, once. What I was looking for in the past few days was that journey, again. It did not disappoint.
A look at the Goodreads and Amazon reviews for this book reveal that it is more highly thought of than Possession, with 4.3 from Amazon on 811 reviews, and a 4.21 from well over 210,000 ratings from Goodreads, which are orders of magnitude more than rated Possession by the time I got to it last week. People have clearly loved this book on a scale which was not really the case for the AS Byatt. Sometimes, it’s hard to understand why.
For me, the over-riding question is this: how does a 17 year old Spanish boy in a post Civil War Spain seem so much more real than a pair of current day academics, particularly given the increasing profile of academic poverty and lack of tenure all across the world? Logically, you’d have to assume that books with some connection to your current reality might have a greater hook in believability; livability…
I really don’t know how to work that question out. All I know is that when I read this book, it is so utterly compelling that the rest of the world fades into grey. I have no idea what has happened outside the pages of this book for the last 24 hours.
Credit for this isn’t Zafón’s alone; I have yet to read the book in Spanish and the English edition has been expertly translated by Lucia Graves. I owe a lot to her. My life would be the poorer without this book.
In one respect, I am pretty sure that originally, I was drawn to this book by the pretext of the book; the idea of there being a vast library of books from which I could choose one; one for myself. What I would not have given for such a library as a child. Many twisting aisles of bookshelves, with many books of intriguing title. When I think of the Cemetery of of Lost Books, it is a world that I have created for myself. One of the core concerns I had with the film adaptations of the Harry Potter books and the Lord of the Rings trilogy was a desperate fear that the Others’ worlds, the Others who who had the ability and wherewithal to bring Their Hogwarts to life, would ruin the world I had created for myself; I would have the exact same fear with this.
A book which transports you, and builds itself inside your mind, every brick, every pane of glass, and every pile of books is something special. Something which takes you away, and sketches a broad world inside your mind…for all the books that exist in the world, there are few enough which do this. I read this book almost as pages of soft pencil sketches drawn in front of me, a book that comes to me in stunningly drawn artworks, and not words. I probably could not read this book and try to find it in today’s Barcelona because today’s Barcelona is not in the broad pencil sketches which haunt my mind even now. The Barcelona of The Shadow of the Wind is my Barcelona, every stone laid by my imagination.
Everyone has their own book which touches their lives in such a way that to pick it up is to travel without wings or wheels. For me, at this time and this place, and at a previous time and other place, it has been this book.