Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Book Review: The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I'm several books behind on my reviews here, so in the next couple of days I'm going to try to catch up with my December and early January reading. Shortly after finishing Stephen King's 11-22-63, I reached for another novel from Carlos Ruiz Zafon (The Shadow of the Wind and The Midnight Palace were previously reviewed here on Magica Goldens).

The Audible Publisher's Summary:
In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man, David Martin, makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city's underworld.
But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house lie photographs and letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner.
Like a slow poison, the history of the place seeps into his bones as he struggles with an impossible love. Close to despair, David receives a letter from a reclusive French editor, Andreas Corelli, who makes him the offer of a lifetime. He is to write a book unlike anything that has ever existed, a book with the power to change hearts and minds. In return, he will receive a fortune, and perhaps more. But as David begins the work, he realizes that there is a connection between his haunting book and the shadows that surround his home.
Once again, Zafon takes us into a dark, gothic universe first seen in the Shadow of the Wind and creates a breathtaking adventure of intrigue, romance, and tragedy. Through a dizzingly constructed labyrinth of secrets, the magic of books, passion, and friendship blend into a masterful story.

The Angel's Game has several striking parallels to Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind - namely the tortured existence of a writer trying to succeed in Barcelona's literary circles. The Cemetery of Forgotten books makes another appearance and a mentor who fosters the love of reading and writing. I suspect that Mr. Zafon must have such a guiding force in his real-life past.

The story of The Angel's Game is a bit darker than the other two Zafon novels I've reviewed here and there is a mythical element to a couple of the characters (that I can't delve into without a spoiler). I did find that the novel got to about 15 hours 10 minutes and then suddenly there was a bit of a "whoops! we've got to wrap this sucker up fast" vibe. To some extent this was a bit uncomfortable for the reader (or listener) - we're cruising along at 55mph when suddenly we accelerate to 90mph and then abruptly crash to a tangled mess. When we step out of the wrecked car completely unharmed the ride all makes sense and we're satisfied - but we're a little stunned trying to figure out exactly how it all happened! Vague? Yes - deliberately so. I needed a second listen through the last 30-40 minutes to bring it all together in my mind.

Now for a bit of criticism - minor though it may be. I was not as invested in this novel as I was with (in particular) The Shadow of the Wind. I liked the characters well enough, but I didn't get sucked into their stories as much as I would have liked to. There is a bit of a fable in the main character David Martin's life - be careful what you wish for, because if you get it you might find that you didn't really want it in the first place.

Worth repeating for The Angel's Game is my preference to skip translated novels - as a rule, I find translated novels to miss a connecting quality between runs of thought and dialogue. All three of the Zafon novels I've listened to were translated by Lucia Graves - who so expertly manipulates the language that it seems impossible that these novels were not read in the language that they were written. I liked Dan Stevens' narration of the novel, with the usual semi-complaint that for my liking I wish he'd read at a bit faster pace. Thanks to the audible app on my iPhone I can (and did) 'fix' that by listening at an accelerated rate of playback.

The net result was a satisfying novel that perhaps just didn't shine as brightly as The Shadow of the Wind. I'd recommend it to any fan of the genre - perhaps David (and Daniel) will be more compelling to you :-)

The Angel's Game was written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and produced by Random House Audio, copyright 6/16/2009. The Spanish language novel was published in April 2008. The Angel's Game was narrated by Dan Stevens and has a runtime of 15 hours 29 minutes.

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