Carloz Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind. Phoenix, 2004. Pp. 402. ISBN 0753819317. £9.99. (US: ISBN 0143034901. $15.00.)

Reviewed by Jehoshaphat

At the age of ten, Daniel Sempere is taken to a hidden library for books which are out of circulation. These lost treasures are kept out of the limelight to protect and preserve them. Daniel is invited at the age of ten in 1945 by his father to choose and retrieve a book, the Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. The boy reads this book in one night and is utterly enraptured by the story, the author and his inspiration.

The chosen book attracts a great deal of interest from associates of his father, the Barcelona Crime Squad and certain enigmatic individuals. As Daniel grows and matures, he is compelled to discover more and more about this strange book and author, sacrificing the offices of friendship with his age-peers; the book and author become a means to explore the magic of authorship, impress the objects of Daniel's emotional desire and by default, discover his sexuality, and his own place in the world as a cheeky, urbane and intelligent misfit.

Daniel's investigations and romantic trials drag him into a dangerous and dirty situation; this is a lingering affair from the past involving a similar set of misfits. The author, Carax, is one of this group. Carax is at heart an honorable person, but obsessed with intimacy, depravity and darkness—themes he explores in his otherwise poorly received novels.

The intrigues of all the characters, atmospheric settings and local superstitions provide a frame work doused in dark intrigue; the notion of not dabbling in the unknown is alluded to, with dark speculation manifested in the suggestion of the supernatural. The themes and the character portrayals were in places underdeveloped and verging on the predictable. The portrayal of Inspector Fumero is crass. It is obvious that he is a cruel, wicked fascist, his coarse swearing was unrealistically profuse and shift from oily sychophant to terrifying bully hardly had me trembling with the ominous contrast Zafón was apparently aiming for. Other characters are too shallow and are too conveniently shoe-horned into the narrative (the eccentric friend of Daniel, de Torres, and Nooria Montfort spring to mind). Daniel's father is also too good to be true. Descriptions of the horrific and unpalatable are clinically—too clinically—delivered.

All of these are forgivable because Zafón has an older Daniel narrating his recollections, and it could be reasonably argued that the reliance on memory explains the apparent shallowness of some of the story and characters. This implies that such narratives are written with a disadvantage from the outset, or that Zafón has crafted it as such. Most likely, the text is a reasonable but rough around the edges translation into the English that I read; it suffers from 'translationese' in places.

A charming book well worth reading nonetheless, this will keep the reader interested from start to finish.

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