Angel's Game, The

Carlos Ruiz Zafón
From master storyteller Carlos Ruiz Zafon, author of the international phenomenon The Shadow of the Wind, comes The Angel’s Game — a dazzling new page-turner about the perilous nature of obsession, in literature and in love.The whole of Barcelona stretched out at my feet and I wanted to believe that when I opened those windows — my new windows — each evening its streets would whisper stories to me, secrets in my ear, that I could catch on paper and narrate to whomever cared to listen…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 dizzyingly constructed labyrinth of secrets, the magic of books, passion, and friendship blend into a masterful story.From the Hardcover edition.


Reviewed: 2013-04-14
Note: I did not read [b:The Shadow of the Wind|1232|The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #1)|Carlos Ruiz Zafón||3209783] first, because this was the only book of Zafón's that I could find in Spanish where I live.

Basically, David lives in a super creepy house and is one day offered a bazillion dollars (well, 100,000 francs) plus something extra (I want to keep this a spoiler-free review, but the something extra is of much greater importance than the money) to write a book. In essence, this mysterious benefactor wants David to start a religion (cue up your L Ron Hubbard jokes in 3...2...1...commence couch-jumping).

The good: Zafón has a truly wonderful command of language. He describes Barcelona so well and so eerily, and his prose is hauntingly beautiful. This is hard to do about a city that's been described so many times over and used as the backdrop for so many novels, but nothing he writes feels like a retread. (I can't tell you about accuracy, since I was in Barcelona for 5 disease-plagued nights many years ago, and all I remember is the sound of my mother being very sick and also La Sagrada Familia which, admittedly, was fucking awesome. But I trust the feel he has captured here is accurate, at least as of the 1920s.)

He's excellent at suspense. While I was reading this book, I didn't think I would last all the way through, because I was so worried about what would happen next. My eyes would do that thing where they naturally skim down to try to find out what happens, and I had to force myself to cover up the bottom half of the pages and the opposite page so I wouldn't spoil myself by accidentally reading ahead. (Do any of you do this? It's like a real problem with me.) He's also really good at eerie, creepy, macabre, bloody, could-totally-give-you-nightmares-if-you-saw-this-on-screen stuff.

He's great at eliciting emotion. Even when he was writing about characters I didn't care about, which was basically all of them (more on that later), I ended up caring what happened to them despite myself.

A lot of this book is based on the relationship that writers have with writing, with all of its wonderful highs and desperate lows (although I think there is a lot more focus on the dark side of writing), and he does that very well. This book understands that you love to read. This book understands that one book you have that you've read 400 times, and could read 400 times more, and would be devastated to lose because you've worn it out just the perfect amount for it to truly belong to you and fuck e-readers, they're not the same.

The bad: Almost every character in this book bored the crap out of me.

The main character was fine enough — not so great that I wanted to root for him all of the way, but not so boring or flawed that I hated him. David Martin (the main character) isn't really a fresh or all that compelling character, but he's fleshed out and screwed up just enough that you want to keep going to see what happens to him. He does fall into the "staring lovingly and from afar at a beautiful creature and deciding this person is his SOULMATE despite having exchange approximately 4 words with her" thing that drives me insane, but he suffers so much for it that whatever.

The supporting characters almost all suck. The elderly bookseller (Sempere) and his son (Sempere Jr) seem like genuinely lovely people, and I really liked them. Sempere, along with super rich kind of playboy Pedro Vidal, are the main character's best friend's/benefactors/father figures, and while they're also nothing new in terms of archetype, they're sympathetic and Vidal is almost even interesting.

The women, however, are another story. Isabella is a 17-year-old aspiring writer who basically attaches herself to David and forces him to be her mentor and take her in as a student/assistant. She is every precocious ingenue stereotype you've ever read. She's every sympathetic spunky sister stereotype you've ever read. I spent a while wondering if she's supposed to be in love with David, and then realized I didn't care.

Cristina, David's aforementioned SOULMATE, has almost no personality but sadness and self-loathing, which sounds like it could be interesting, but isn't. Without spoiling the plot, a bunch of stuff happens to her in the last third of the book in which she becomes inextricably intertwined with David's book report thingy and it's supposed to be all very fraught with tension and fear and emotion, but I could not find myself invested in such a thinly imagined character.

Other female characters include: a bitter widow, an unfeeling absentee mother, a femme fatale, a fictional vampiress who wears a cross which bitch please haven't you learned anything from Buffy. The women are really just a backdrop for furthering David's plot and sense of self/sanity, which would be fine if they were at least interesting along with being devices/foils. Alas, they are not.

Oh, and the mysterious benefactor really isn't that mysterious or shocking or even as creepy as Zafón wants him to be. There's a lot about how David always feels super uneasy to meet with him, and I found myself skimming all of their encounters after a while. But the author does succeed in giving the benefactor this air of omnipresence, as if you could never escape him even if you ran to the ends of the earth and/or to Marseille, and I thought that was really well done.

The ending of the book, and indeed the whole novel itself, is twisty and perhaps open-ended. There is a hall of mirror-like quality to this book, and now that I've finished it, I do feel like Zafón wrote these characters this way on purpose, which does little to diminish my lack of enjoyment, but so goes it. I also personally have a lot of problems with books about fictional books, because unless the author makes a real concerted effort to make the novel within the novel feel very alive, I feel like I'm always being told how great and important this fictional book within the book is, but obviously I can't experience this for myself (since said book does not exist in my universe), and so I am pulled out of the fiction. I promise this sentence made sense in my head. Basically, I'm a sucker for frame stories, but not when the contents of the frame aren't as inspiring as the frame. (I don't know that this last sentence was the clarification I meant it to be.)

All in all, this is a solid book if you are one to read for plot, mystery and mood. All of those are done excellently. It's also great if you find yourself wholly invested in David Martin and really want to unravel what's going on with him. But plot is almost secondary to me when I read, and while I understand why the author wrote the characters in the way that he did, it was too irritating for me to forgive. I also didn't feel much of anything at the end of this book and didn't feel like I'd learned anything about myself or these characters or the time period, except that there are people who really like books, and I knew that already.

I read this book in Spanish, so I can't really comment on the English translation. However, Wikipedia says the book was translated into English by Lucy Graves, who is the granddaughter of the late, esteemed poet/writer/translator [a:Robert Graves|3012988|Robert Graves|], so she probably knows what she's doing. As I mentioned above, I'm told the first novel, The Shadow of the Wind, is superior to this one in every respect, but in the end it also seems to me that it will be a very plot-driven novel about a novel within a novel, so I'll probably skip it.

Tl;dr — I recommend this if you like twisty stories, murder mysteries, and haunting descriptions of Barcelona. And mayhaps you will come away with a completely different reaction to the secondary characters. I don't recommend this if you are looking for a meditation on anything, except perhaps the nature of a writer's sanity.
Item Posts
No posts