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Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Angel's Game is the second novel in Ruiz Zafón's Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  The Cemetery itself (as intriguing as it is) does not have much of a role in the books, serving instead as an impetus that gets the plot moving.  In this case, David Martín, a frustrated but ambitious writer, has made a Fausian bargain to write a dangerous book in exchange for wealth and health.  A trip to the Cemetery leads him to discover a book written under similar circumstances, and he becomes obsessed with discovering his predecessor's fate.

Ruiz Zafón's talent is in atmosphere, the way he writes about the sights, sounds, and feel of 1920's Barcelona, resulting in genuine Gothic horror -- a sub-genre I consider hard to pull off in a century saturated with irony, skepticism, and (supposed) sophistication.  I found Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho to be melodramatic and silly when I read it way back in college (I am not immune to today's irony and skepticism), but The Angel's Game is genuinely dark and eerie and kinda scary, and Martín a disturbing and unreliable narrator.

My one complaint is with the coda -- a turn of events that is creepy (as expected) but could also be read as profoundly icky and perverted, and not in a good way.  The problem is that it is just ambiguous enough that I don't know what Ruiz Zafón's intent is; the fact that the third novel in the series apparently reveals Martín to be delusional doesn't help.  Other parts of the plot, of course, remained unexplained and uncertain, as is appropriate to the genre, but the particular details of this event make it yucky, not enjoyable.  Maybe The Prisoner of Heaven will resolve it for me.

I'm rereading (really, skimming) the first novel, The Shadow of the Wind, before picking up the third, which apparently ties the two together.

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