One down, fifty-one to go! It was a strange week, though, and I never seemed to find long stretches of time to sit and read. Each day I slid further away from my daily and weekly target. Although my aim wasn’t to read a book a week I wanted to stay as close to this give or take a day or two to avoid going completely awry. You see, I can be honest with myself; I know exactly what I am like. I just didn’t think my forward planning would justify itself in the first week. But the book was never far away. It tempted me like an open box of chocolates and whenever I passed I would treat myself to stealing a few more pages. Often I just dipped my fingertips into the crumbs, but on Monday morning I gorged my way through the final one hundred pages. I was in my element.
When I chose The Shadow of the Wind to start my challenge, I didn’t realise how appropriate it would be as at its base it is a book about a book. It tells the story of Daniel, a young boy who lives alone with his father who owns a bookshop. Daniel is ten years old when his father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He must promise not to tell anyone about this place and as his father explains ‘the first time someone visits this place, he must choose a book, whichever he wants, and adopt it, making sure that it will never disappear, that it will always stay alive. It’s a very important promise. For life.’ Daniel is drawn to The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax, and his commitment to this promise sees him refuse the offer of a large sum of money to part with it, and later risks his own life to protect it. As he grows up people become aware that he has this rare and sought after book and there are rumours of a man who has been buying any copies he can track down with the sole intention of burning them. Late one night Daniel looks out of his window and notices a dark figure, smoking a cigarette, watching him from below. The boy recognises it as a scene from the book and although he knows the man could have been anyone, he knows that in Carax’s book he is the devil.
From here the book is fast paced: full of detail and description with a plot that never stagnates. I have read other reviews that criticised this book for the greatest of creative writing sins… too much telling and not enough showing. But this is after all a story about a story, and getting to the heart of the mystery surrounding the author the reader encounters several minor characters who each tell their own version of events: what they know about Julián Carax and what they know about what happened to him. So sometimes they are used as a platform for getting out the large amount of detail our author wants the reader to know. But to me it was barely noticeable and when I did notice, I didn’t care. I just wanted my next fix.
The plot is constantly unravelling and those last one hundred pages charged by in a stampede of twists with all of the characters and their motives previously set up, being knocked down one by one. With some books the endings will never be good enough. But this one was perfect. The whole story was the literary equivalent of an M.C. Escher drawing. The people and the plot went round and around, the story folded into itself and back out again. So many elements and characters were at work. Just as an ending arrived, there was another beyond it, and then another. It catered for the sparse, the abstract and the complete. Everything resolved.
Although occasionally the prose wobbled and I wondered if something had been lost in translation The Shadow of the Wind is filled with some beautiful descriptive writing which I probably didn’t appreciate as much as I should as I just wantedto know what would happen next.
There is so much going on in this novel. There are heroes and villains, and flawed characters that rise to their own challenges. It has the sensitivity of a historical romance and the adrenaline rush of a thriller. I loved every page of it and regret that I let it stifle for so long on my bookshelf; I am sure it won’t be long before I’m urging anyone who’ll listen to read it.
If you’ve read this, what do you think?
Here’s my own little rating out of five
Easy to get into 5/5
Likeable/ well-developed characters 4/5
Addiction factor 5/5