Published: 2002 (this edition 2005)
Right until the moment I opened the book, I must confess to knowing very little about Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s ‘modern masterpiece’ The Shadow of the Wind, other than the fact it had a reputation as a brilliant, modernised take on the Gothic genre and that I had once analysed a brief extract in English. So, what I’m trying to say in an overly fancy way is: I went into this one practically blind! I had no idea what to expect, and was thus quite bemused when I realised the novel tells the tale of a young man- Daniel- who picks up a novel named The Shadow of the Wind in a store specialising in out-of-print and rare novels, and soon becomes embroiled in a quest to find out more about the life of its elusive author Julian Carax. If that sounds a little odd… That’s because it is! But, as with all the best things in life, I mean that in a good way. Now the weirdness factor has been addressed, on with the review!
Unusually, as someone who can take a little while to get into a book, I loved Daniel from the off. The idea of a young boy being an awkward dreamer really resonated with me, as did him attaching such passionate sentimental value to a book (my fellow bibliophiles will definitely enjoy Daniel!). I’m happy to report that these feelings of endearment remained throughout the novel, even as the character aged into a fully grown man in place of the small boy we first encounter. In fact, the description is so rich and beautiful that one almost feels like they’ve grown up with Daniel. As for his eventual love interest Bea, I found her to be relatively pleasant, even if my one complaint is that I felt her role was limited to that of quite a stereotypical ‘damsel in distress’ at times (although I didn’t mind too much as I’m still a sucker for a happy ending!). I had similar feeligs towards Nuria, a relatively pointless character who I felt existed only to narrate part of the novel- something which, in my opinion, could have been done by any of the other characters present. The ‘stereotypical’ comment, however, cannot be used towards Lain Caubert- a mysterious character hellbent on stalling Daniel’s efforts to find out more about Carax as well as to destroy all known copies of the author’s work. That being said, I can’t profess to having been too surpised when the real identity behind this psuedonymn was ultimately revealed, although I didn’t feel this detracted from the novel at all, since there still remained several parts of his backstory that I found impossible to predict. Another intriguing character was Daniel’s friend and childhood love interest Clara, who manages to use her blindness to her advantage in an interesting subplot. As for Carax himself, the character’s tale really was fascinating, especially when it was linked to that of the Aldayas- a wealthy Barcelonan family who took him under their wing, yet also had some dark secrets of their own (I won’t give out any spoilers, but will disclose that one of these secrets proved particularly disturbing, yet somehow appropriate given the novel’s gothic nature). It would be an accurate assessment to say the only light relief present in the novel takes the form of Daniel’s often humorous friend Fermin- a homeless man who he and his father take in, who later becomes integral to Daniel’s quest for the truth about Carax. Readers will find themselves grateful for his presence in a book that could easily have become a little too bitter and twisted without such a presence.
With regards to the actual plot, The Shadow of the Wind soon transpired to be both one of the most unusual books I’ve read, and one of the most chilling. The former became apparent as soon as the book began in a mysterious place known as a ‘cemetery’ for forgotten literature. The latter was particularly true when it became apparent Barcelona’s fantastically corrupt Police Inspector Fumero harboured a long-time grudge against Carax. Without giving too much away, I will also confirm that, despite being someone not easily unnerved by films or books, I found some scenes involving Fumero so realistically described they became almost too intense to read. Despite featuring a conclusion and epilogue that more or less explained the events of the novel, I further thought Zafon was able to retain a feeling that there was an almost supernatural presence at work, making the book feel like a true Gothic horror. On a less creepy note, the author’s inspired choice to set the action in Barcelona- and use the city’s landmarks to his full advantage- creates a vibrant, interesting setting. My one complaint about the entire novel would be that I felt a couple of characters could have been given more to do but, overall, this did little to detract from the feeling that I was reading a true modern classic of the horror genre. A must read for any fans of suspense- or indeed beautiful description in general!
Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 (5/5)