Z: The shadow of the wind by Carlos Ruiz zafón (2001), Translated by Lucia Graves (2004)
Over the next decade he tries to sleuth out what happened with the help of several colourful characters. As he pieces together the details of Carax’s tragic childhood and love story, his own life begins to parallel the story he is unearthing. Yet unlike Carax, Daniel finds redemption and peace and through his happier ending, Carax can finally lay his own sorrow to rest. It’s a very satisfying conclusion, with all loose threads tied up.
The binding of this title is a brilliant fuchsia-red On the cover, dark-spined books interspersed with white-spined books form the initial Z. Two small figures look up at the towering shelves. The quote on the back reads, “Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.”
Books and writing are the major motif of this story, expressed through
-the bookstore owned by the Semperes
-the Cemetery of Forgotten Books
-the premise itself about a book and a mysterious author
-the other narrator being employed by a publisher
-the importance of a fountain pen allegedly used by Victor Hugo
-the transmission of an important secret message in a priest’s missal
-the fact that Bea, Daniel’s love, is studying literature, and that they first make love in a library...
But while the vibrant binding is gorgeous, it doesn’t prepare the reader for the sepia-toned, gothic ambiance of post-war Barcelona that Zafón describes in its pages. In fact, this book would make an amazing animated film. In my mind, the characters and settings appeared as if illustrated by Shaun Tan. There’s the narrator’s father’s musty bookshop, the labyrinthine Cemetery of Forgotten Books, the haunted mansion with eerie fountains in its courtyard, the ramshackle tenements, the tragic and sinister senior’s home.
Perhaps the vibrant colour alludes to the other theme of the novel: love and passion. There are at least ten different couples that pair off in the story, so love and sex are on nearly every page. But hate is never far away, and love has to stay one step ahead of jealousy, revenge, and paternal disapproval.
Because he is telling a story within a story, Zafón does some interesting things technically. There are several instances where another character tells Daniel what has happened in the past. Instead of putting them in direct speech, these lengthy narratives are in italics and told in the third-person. In another instance, Zafón uses a different narrator altogether, demarcating her story by a full section break. Nuria Montfort’s voice takes over for a full thirteen chapters, except for the fifth chapter, in italics again, which is told more from the villain’s perspective.
So why does the narration shift? Well, a first person narrator by nature has the most limited point of view. He only knows as much as he has seen with his own eyes, in his own lifespan. To fill in all the information gaps, sometimes someone else needs to tell the story. Zafón keeps us mostly inside Daniel’s and Nuria’s heads, but doesn’t hesitate to share events neither of them directly witnessed in these parenthetical third-person sections.
In a first person narrative, the question is always, “To whom is the narrator writing or speaking?” Nuria Montfort was writing to Daniel, that was logical. But to whom is Daniel speaking? In the very last chapter we learn he is writing down the story of Carax for his own son:
“As I write these words on the counter of my bookshop, my son, Julián, who will be ten tomorrow, watches me with a smile and looks with curiosity at the pile of sheets that grows and grows, convinced that his father has also caught the illness of books and words.”
The Shadow of the Wind is a tribute to bibliophilia and a well-chosen last title for a series for all who have ‘caught the illness of books and words.’
In order to slow down my frenetic book-eating, I'm writing reviews of the books I read to better digest them. Bon appétit!