Thursday, July 02, 2009

To defend its honour

The Angel's Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, is already destined to be a bestseller — it doesn't need my help in the slightest.

You should know: I hated The Shadow of Wind. I thought, and still think, it's one of the most overrated pieces of crap I've ever read. Sure, it starts of with a lovely bookish feel but it quickly fell apart for me: the characters, the plot, the language — everything about it was a bit too farfetched.

I don't know what possessed me then to accept an ARC of The Angel's Game. I fully expected to hate it. Though The Shadow is now but a shadow in my memory, I very clearly remember fuming about reading it and the time I was wasting reading it (while continuing to read it).

Maybe because my expectations were so low... I found myself loving this book and unable to put it down.

"You have more zeal than good taste, Martín. The disease afflicting you has a name, and that is Grand Guignol: it does to drama what syphilis does to your privates. Getting it might be pleasurable, but from then on it's all downhill. You should read the classics, or at least Don Benito Pérez Galdós, to elevate your literary aspirations."

"But the readers like my stories," I argued.

"You don't deserve the credit. That belongs to your rivals: they are so bad and pedantic that they could render a donkey catatonic in less than a paragraph. When are you going to mature and stop munching the forbidden fruit once and for all?"

I would nod, full of contrition, but secretly I caressed those forbidden words, Grand Guignol, and I told myself that every cause, however frivolous, needed a champion to defend its honour.

This book is full of exuberance. The reader is propelled forward because of (not despite) its Grand Guignol elements. While the plot does spin out of control (and the body count climbs), the author has much better control of his material here than in The Shadow. The writer knows he cannot do the reader's job. He is smarter to leave things unanswered and ambiguous than to supply tortuous explanations that couldn't possibly hit all the right notes. Those are the things this reader revels in.

One thing really bothers me: Isabella marries and has a child and never writes again. The headstrong girl who essentially stalked an author, who went to great lengths to extract a critique of her work and for writerly advice. She just stops. Her son becomes her everything. I don't know if this is meant to be realistic, or if this is the author's thoughtless brushing aside of the character once her purpose had been served. But it strikes me as wrong.

Incidentally, my sister went to hear Zafón a couple weeks ago. He came across as personable and had entertaining anecdotes to share regarding his first forays into publishing as a youth. He named a couple authors whom he reads, respects, admires: Joyce Carol Oates and China Miéville, the latter in particular for his defiance of genre stereotypes.

My final verdict: The Angel's Game was wonderfully entertaining and makes for a great summer read.

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