“Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”
– Carlos Ruiz Zafón
In one of my first bookish childhood memories, I’m lying next to my mum as she reads. Already identifying as a booklover, I peer over her shoulder to read along and occasionally ask what a word means. In my memory she’s astounded by my ability to read such BIG WORDS. In hindsight however it’s more likely that she simply wished I would stop interrupting. Anyway, since I can remember I’ve read her books, although I did learn to wait till she’d finished. I tell you this because The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is one of my mum’s favourite books.
So, when I saw it for £1 in a charity shop a while back, I bought it thinking I’d get round to it. Like most other people I haven’t seen my family for weeks now. Which is why when I was particularly missing my mum one day I decided to finally pick it up.
The Shadow of the Wind begins when a father takes his young son Daniel to choose a book from the Cemetery of Lost Books, a bookshop full of obscure titles deep in old town Barcelona. He picks ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Julian Carax. As he grows up, Daniel realises the book he innocently selected is wanted by others. They are fuelled by the mystery surrounding the author’s life and untimely death. One night, Daniel is approached by a sinister man asking for his copy of the book. More so, he wishes to burn it just like he has done with all the others he’s got his hands on. From there the plot unfurls as Daniel races to discover the real story of Julian Carax, the people he left behind and why anyone would want the truth destroyed.
This book is as much of a sprawling labyrinth as The Cemetery of Lost Books it describes. Hidden within its depths are twist and turns. On top of that is layer upon layer of rich, atmospheric history which really pulls you in. It’s part gothic ghost story, part mystery with a sprinkle of humour throughout. It’s a simmering, smoky read for which post-civil war Barcelona is the perfect backdrop. The city is painted in a beautiful yet bruised light as it recovers from the war alongside its inhabitants. The crumbling, dilapidated buildings help build that shadowy sense of intrigue that surrounds Daniel’s quest.
There are a ton of characters and it’s a testament to Zafón’s writing that not only does he manage to keep a tight hold on them, when even minor characters have backstories, but you’re invested in them too. Luckily for Daniel, motley cast of characters help him along the way. A favoured device is for a loose-lipped neighbour to spill the beans to him. Now, this could get stale but I thought that it fit well with the neighbourly sense of well-intentioned interfering. You can imagine them whispering to one another across the balconies with their eyebrows raised. My favourite character is the raconteur Fermín Romero de Torres who never stops talking but who’s also fiercely loyal. I think he’d be an excellent person to discuss books with, or anything for that matter.
The Shadow in the Wind was the first in a series of three novels which I hadn’t realised. So now the plan is to get my hands on the others, if not all for £1! This book and its characters provide a welcoming, hazy warmth that I’m eager to return to. All that’s left to say that, annoying as it is, mother’s do know best.
If you fancy give it a go, you can buy a copy here.