Sunday, November 20, 2016

Modern Gothic at Its Best - The Shadow of the Wind

What a beautiful, beautiful book. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is full of depth, and a wonderful blending of Gothicism and modernity in which the national character of the book, and Barcelona in particular, is ever present.

Perhaps the best compliment I could pay this work is to say that while reading it, I felt it a true descendant of Don Quixote, the pinnacle of Spanish literature, the essence of the novel form, filled with every emotion you want from a great story--love, empathy, hatred, sorrow, fear, cowardice, contempt, shock, reverence, and inspiration.

Let's talk about the style for a minute. It's perfection. Zafon's language is full of magic and mystery, starting the tale off by showing the wonders of the world through the eyes of a child, and bringing all the corners of the city to life through a colorful array of characters. My favorite was Fermin. His dialogue and actions were so real, and he made me laugh out loud. Multiple times, to the annoyance of whoever was around me as I read voraciously. And the humor fell mostly to the intellectual side, even in more provocative conversations-I appreciated that intelligent sensibility immensely.

Another big compliment I have to pay - The Shadow of the Wind is the best iteration of the Gothic that I have read in a long, long while, including actual gothic works and more contemporary literature that plays on its tropes. The things we know and expect from Gothicism--dilapidated houses, ghosts and demons, family drama, dire secrets and the quest to reveal them--all these are done here in a way that is fresh, and urgent, and unpredictable, making this immensely enjoyable, breathing new life into ways of storytelling that have been sadly formulaic and drab in so many attempts at the Gothic. Part of the success of Zafon's gothicism is its intimate connection to his setting. Postwar Barcelona is so well-developed and believable, and it's the perfect place to deal with Gothic tropes of things that are hidden coming to light--in a city torn apart and changing in the wake of a war that left its mark not on the nation, but on its people. The city is in flux, and it's an ideal juxtaposition.

I have two quibbles, the first of which is Fumero, one of the villains of the story. I saw the depths of his villainy, felt his malignant presence in every scene, without making him larger than life in a super-villain, charicatured sense. It reminded me very much of the villain of Pan's Labyrinth, another beautiful story set during the Spanish Civil War. But his motivations for his acts? That fell on the weak side. He did not seem as intimately involved in the impetus of the events for which he plots his revenge.

An adaptation of Shadow of the Wind like this would make my life complete.

My second quibble: towards the end of the work, there's a confusion of voice in the lengthy narrative of Nuria Monfort, a character on whom our protagonist Daniel relies to find the truth of the past. The lengthy exposition of all that Daniel and Fermin have been working to uncover felt so much like the weighty explanations at the end of many Sherlock Holmes stories, and did not carry the immediacy and urgency that Daniel's narrative had. I desperately wish that it had. There was a slight question of how she was telling things she admittedly did not witness, so there was a little bit of head-scratching involved, but overall, it came back together for a page-turning finale.

This is a book whose power will stay with me for a while, and only increases my affinity for Spanish writers, and international writes more broadly. I feel really blessed to have read it - a real contribution to art, literature, and all that is beautiful in this world. The best part? There are two more books in this series.

K Rating: 9/10


  1. Yay! Isn't this a fun book? The sequels, not quite as good, but then it would be hard to follow this one.

  2. Not as good? That's so sad, but I will at least give the second in the trilogy a go. And yes, it is hard to follow your own act sometimes, a bummer for career writers.