55 of 65 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Shadow Of The Wind (Paperback)
If you haven't read The Shadow of the Wind yet, you will soon. Or someone you know will. It's going to be big. We know this because a certain high street booksellers have been championing it since before Xmas, and I understand their buying manager loved it so much that he persuaded the publishers to bring out a large-format paperback for the Christmas market. And it doesn't even come out in properback until August. By then Richard and Judy will be discussing it on their Book Group - since this time last year, every publisher's wet dream has been to get one of their titles on the Madeley-Finnegan coffee table, and the plucky little Spaniard is one of the lucky ones this time.
It deserves the attention: and it's not so little either. At 400 closely typed pages (spaced and stretched to a more easy-breathing 500 in the forthcoming paperback), it's pretty long as they come but I polished it off in three days. This is because it effortlessly earns that most devalued of reviewerly portmanteaus: unputdownable. There's a reason for this: it's a plot-driven novel, a thriller of all things. I was wondering why it thrilled me so much. It does perhaps have pretensions to a higher form of literary life with its rarefied atmosphere of dusty books in Civil War-era Spain, its carefully observed portrayal of a young male in love (and lust), and its beautiful writing - and on those grounds justifies its airs admirably. As a potboiler, it's Le Creuset, but a potboiler nonetheless. That's not to criticise: when my heart was in my mouth at the scene where the teenage narrator, Daniel, chances upon his beloved in flagrante with her music teacher (known as 'The Magic Flute' for precisely this sort of thing), I can't say whether it was because Zafón made me empathise with the heartfelt pain of the boy, or was just delivering a well-paced bit of melodrama.
There's plenty more where that came from. The book is awash with sexual intrigue, swapped identities, and devilish apparations, two parts wool-pulled-over to one part rug-pulled-from-under. Indeed, so involved is the plot, scattered with hairpins and switchbacks, that part of the reason I read it so quickly may well have been simply to make sure I didn't lose my way. Even then I am not sure I succeeded, with Zafón expertly diving into stories within stories, switching points of view and never so much as mentioning a character without guaranteeing them a detailed study and history somewhere in the pages. Comparisons have been made with Umberto Eco (nah, it's far too readable for that) and Paul Auster (more like it) but for my money the missing link was Theodore Roszak's Flicker, where the narrator plunges into a world of conspiracy and intrigue in search of a lost filmmaker, and which Philip French in the Observer (Who Is Never Wrong) called the best novel ever written about films - change filmmaker for novelist and you have Shadow of the Wind replicated to a tee, down to the knowing air of over-the-top craziness.
So The Shadow of the Wind could conceivably have been shorter (he doesn't seem to know when to end the damn thing either: there are no fewer than four codas after the main denouement), and it is more riddled with melodrama than a baddie's body is with bullets - oh, and it has a rubbish title. But it's a breeze, and a romp, and has some great characterisation and lines (Fermín the former tramp deserves a book of his own, but then, this pretty much is it), and will be unavoidable anyway this year. So take the easy way and get in the ground floor.