13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Great read, but fades,
This review is from: The Shadow Of The Wind (Paperback)I enjoyed this, and read it in great gulps several nights stopping only because my eyes wouldn't stay open. It's a labyrinth story, the main character having to dive into the stories of many people to come to the bottom and so escape. It uses the old conceit of a book that becomes so important to the character that it is the springboard of the action. Here there is a further twist. The book is itself called The Shadow of the Wind, and the only hint of its contents we get makes it sound suspiciously like the one we are reading. For the narrator, Daniel Sampere, the search for the book's author, Julián Carax, is both a mystery that must be resolved and a replay of the book's love plot, which is in itself inspired by Carax's affair with Penelope.
So we have a mystery, a love story (actually, several), and quite a few other genre elements as well. It is an historical novel whose chronological setting runs from early in the 20th Century to 1955. It is also a gothic novel: the dark, disfigured Laín Coubert obsessively seeking out all of Carax's books to burn them; rich families with dreaded secrets destroyed by them; love that rules lives and mutilates its victims; resentment grown to driving hatred running through the whole.
There is also one very memorable character, Fermín Romero de Torres, who is the one that gives the key to the tone of the novel. He is a filthy, almost skeletal beggar, with horrendous scars all over his back, taken up by the narrator and his father to work in their bookshop. He is a great success, hunting down books in hours. He's also read everything, has the experience of 10 men, and is witty, to boot. Some examples:
As a child, I felt the call of poetry and wanted to be a Sophocles or a Virgil, because tragedy and dead languages give me goose pimples.
Like the good ape he is, man is a social animal, characterised by cronyism, nepotism, corruption and gossip. That's the intrinsic blueprint for our "ethical behaviour". It's pure biology.
- This business of courtship is like a tango: absurd and pure embellishment. But you're the man and you must take the lead.
- The lead? Me?
- What do you expect. One has to pay some price for being able to piss standing up.
Despite all these pleasures, mine diminished the closer I got to the end. One of the main reasons for this was the abuse of point of view. Much of the narration depends on testimony, either oral or written. In both, the surrogate narrators know too much, see too far and too deeply into the hearts and minds of others. This never happens with the main narrator, Daniel; only with his witnesses. It is especially flagrant in Nuria's long letter that basically resolves all the mysteries. She describes her husband's meeting with Carax (at which she was not present) in exactly the same way as she does her own experiences.
I think the gothic aspects started to wear on me, as well. The friendship that knows no bounds; self-sacrifice to left and right; the love that cannot die; irredeemable, implacable hatred. It's rather tiring after a while. By the end, I didn't really care that much what happened. Nevertheless, a good read.