Thursday, 15 April 2010

Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Angel's Game

The Angel's Game is a Faustian tale of the temptations created by poverty and childhood deprivation. In pre-war Spain, torn apart by the collision of conflicting political beliefs, a young boy is abandoned by his mother and brought up by a violent, alcoholic father who is murdered in front of his son’s eyes. It's no surprise that the author - Carlos Ruiz Zafon - is a great lover of the novels of Dickens and the other nineteenth century Gothic blockbusters. What is really good about the Angel's Game is the way that Zafon plays with the conventions.
The hero, David Martin, survives the degradations of adolescence by writing ‘penny dreadfuls’ which become compulsive reading for the inhabitants of Barcelona. He falls deeply in love with a young woman but their romance is frustrated - in the traditions of the genre - by a series of apparently insurmountable obstacles.
Though David never makes a great deal from the books he writes, he earns enough to rent a big house saturated in Gothic atmosphere and haunted by a mysterious smell emanating from a locked room. Myself, I would have had the door down straight away out of sheer curiosity, but the devices of narrative suspense prevent the giving way to natural human instincts until a convenient moment in the plot.
One of the delights of this book is the appearance of the devil in the guise of a publisher. Hell is a publishing contract with no opt out clause. The whole novel could be seen as a satire on the publishing industry and the authors who fuel it. One wonders if it is the novelist speaking when the hero remarks cynically, ‘Emotional truth is not a moral quality, it’s a technique.’
My favourite ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ makes a cameo appearance in this novel, but it is never quite as magical as The Shadow of the Wind. The happy ending requires a suspension of belief and the machinations of Magic Realism. This isn’t as good as its predecessor, but if you love a Gothic novel of suspense, beautifully written, this is a Great Read.

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