Reading "The Shadow Of The Wind" was both a delight and a disappointment. This novel had the potential to be excellent literary fiction. At times Carlos Ruiz Zafron's work reminded me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez' and Jorge Luis Borges,' and my expectations rose dramatically as I began to hope for more than a good read. Instead of great literature, however, the novel became an overlong, predictable bestseller, ("bestseller" and "great" are not necessarily an oxymoron), with a most original premise, some brilliant passages and many flaws.
Sr. Ruiz Zafon's extraordinary idea of creating a Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a labyrinthian library where each book awaits someone to choose it and give it another chance to live by making it part of the new owner's life, gave me chills. I thought Zafon's novel might indeed make an impact on my own life. There existed a possibility, as I read the first chapters, that I might be able to list this as one of my own favorite works of fiction. Unfortunately, my disappointment when reaching the novel's conclusion overshadowed the book's many positive elements.
Daniel Sempere, the young boy who fears he has forgotten the image of his dead mother's face, and his compassionate antiquarian book dealer father, who introduces him to the book cemetery, are wonderful characters. Many of Ruiz Zafron's other characters are also memorable and unusual, especially Fermin, a former Republican agent who becomes a second father to Daniel, and Julian Carax, the author of the book Daniel chooses. Daniel's choice of books ultimately determines the course of his life as he tries to discover if the author is still alive and solve the multitude of mysteries surrounding him. The setting, post-WWII Barcelona, is fascinating and the author depicts a brooding city in mourning as a result of the atrocities of both civil and world wars. The rich plot and various subplots, filled with passion, obsession and revenge, have such potential but become terribly convoluted and lose coherence at times. There is much too much information given about some of the characters, their rationales, and oddly enough, about an ancient, haunted house. Much of the mysterious ambiance is lost, however, as a result of all the unwieldy description. Here, the concept "less is more" would have strongly improved the narrative. The entire novel could have been cut by a third...or even by half and made a better, tighter book without losing any of the story or character development. I am a big fan of long, juicy novels, but the length should have a purpose and enhance the tale. The author has focused more on the melodramatic rather than the literary elements. Some may not care, as this is an excellent read. I did care though, as I see so much more potential here and hope the author lives up to it next time.
I do recommend "The Shadow Of The Wind." Most will find it highly enjoyable, as did I. I just wanted more.