Book review: The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind has been sitting on my bookshelf for… oh, three years. It’s been sitting there unread for such a long time, even though I have heard from many independent people that it’s brilliant, for two reasons. Firstly, it’s kind of long at 520 pages and I am a commitment-phobe when it comes to books. What if it’s actually rubbish and I have to either put up with 500 pages of it or admit defeat and abandon it? Much safer to stick to books that are 350 pages and under, right? Secondly, everyone just kept going on about it and I felt hassled, which I don’t react well to. So, it kept getting ignored for ages, until, recently, I just happened to be in the mood for it.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron

The Shadow of the Wind was an enjoyable read. I’ve heard people go on about it as if it’s the best book ever, which is isn’t, but it ain’t the worst either. It follows the young Daniel who’s father owns a bookshop specialising in rare and antique books. Daniel’s mother died when he was young but his father is the ideal parent and does a wonderful job of taking the role of both mother and father to Daniel. One day, early on in the novel, he takes Daniel to the Cemetery of Forgotten books where the 10-year-old is allowed to take any one book to take look after as his own.

Daniel selects a book, The Shadow of The Wind, he reads it and becomes obsessed with the author, Julian Carax. In trying to uncover more about Carax and to find copies of his other books, Daniel begins to unravel a deep mystery, full of intrigue and conspiracies. Starting with the discovery that someone has been tracking down every remaining copy of Carax’s books and burning them.

The characters are wonderful and sometimes bizarre. Each of them is unique and we learn enough about each of the major ones to believe that Zafon has full plans and storylines for every single one of them. Likewise, Zafon is a master of description of crumbling old Barcelona scenery that would be perfect in an old classic Gothic novel. It makes the whole thing eminently readable.

On the other hand, the way the story unfolds sometimes felt, to me, almost procedural. As if I needed to wade through details of character background, descriptions of old libraries, and conversations with curious characters before I’d have read enough pages to have earned the next tidbit of the mystery. Perhaps the intention is simply to build suspense, and certainly, there are a few suspenseful and alarming scenes but after a while, the style started to get on my nerves.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and the conclusion is very satisfying. All of those many threads with many characters are eventually neatly tied up and everything ends the way I felt it ought to. I’m not sure I’d rush out and look up the rest of Zafon’s work, but I liked what I’ve read so far.

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