Good Reading : June 2009
cover story ‘If you tell me I can’t do something I will go out and do it to prove you wrong,’ Carlos tells me. ‘Due to my persistence in keeping my frivolous ambitions, the world lost an insurance agent, an investment banker or a corporate lawyer and ended up having to endure yet another novelist … I realise I probably gave up my chance to contribute to the ruin and collapse of the world’s economy right then.’ The theme of writing and literature is the central thread that connects The Angel’s Game with The Shadow of the Wind. In the former, a struggling young novelist named David Martin works himself to the bone producing penny dreadful horror stories, until he strikes a deal with a charming but sinister French publisher, an arrangement which could make him rich and famous. But there is much more at stake than is at first apparent. The most immediate thing that strikes the reader is the dark tone. Although the Barcelona in The Shadow of the Wind was a dark, forbidding place, it was softened somewhat because the reader experienced it through the eyes of Daniel Sempere, a character it’s easy to sympathise with. The protagonist of The Angel’s Game is a much more complex proposition. ‘I felt it would be interesting to approach the subject of books and writing from a very different angle,’ says Carlos. ‘The Shadow of the Wind used the romantic perspective readers have of literature, and for this novel, a darker tale, I thought it would be exciting to revisit the same elements as seen from a very different psychology. David Martin … has a lot of difficult and complicated experiences behind his back, and he’s telling us about the process from the inside.’ ‘From the inside’ is right. As the pressure mounts on David and things begin to get scary, we are thrust deep inside his tortured consciousness as he struggles to survive. Metaphysical forces seethed beneath the surface in Shadow, but they come much closer to the fore in The Angel’s Game, raising questions about the nature of Daniel’s reality. Carlos acknowledges that he has shifted genre slightly, but is unapologetic, explaining that he wants to invite the reader to ‘become part of the process of storytelling’. ‘It is, in many ways, part of the “game”. I believe that many readers will have no problem whatsoever, and some will feel confused or alienated or challenged by that [but] I don’t believe that is a bad thing in itself.’ The Angel’s Game is indeed more conceptually complex to read than Shadow, but that doesn’t mean that its imagery is any less vivid. If anything, its central scenes and characters are even more sharply drawn and memorable. The image of mysterious French publisher, Andreas Corelli, stands out in particular – his ‘black, shining eyes’ and ‘too fast’ movements strike just the right note of gothic terror, and his image will haunt and trouble you long after you finish the book’s final page. Carlos’s unique vision of a dark and brooding Barcelona, so at odds with common perceptions of the Catalan capital, was almost a character in The Shadow of the Wind. So popular has the book been that multiple walking maps have been put together to help guide travellers to many of the locations featured in the story (one is featured on Carlos’s official English-language site: www.carlosruizzafon.co.uk). Not all of his locations have real- world equivalents, however. The most intriguing of all his inventions may be the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, the vast secret library where obscure books are kept so that they can never disappear completely. ‘I tend to think in terms of images,’ he says. ‘Stories and motifs come to me as images first. In this case I started to visualise this place, this wondrous secret library and asked myself what it meant. I realised that to me it was a metaphor, not just for forgotten books, but for forgotten ideas, forgotten people ... it was about the destruction of memory, of identity. I thought there was an interesting story behind this place, and I decided to explore it and design a plot around it.’ The Cemetery makes a return in The Angel’s Game. Such a powerful literary device opens up a universe of story possibilities. JUNE 2009 ı goodreading 13 Carlos plans a sequence of novels that revolve around it, telling the stories of those lost souls who have been drawn into its maze of sacred bookshelves. He is, however, open to the idea of branching out and setting future novels in places other than his native Barcelona, including his adoptive home of Los Angeles, where he has lived ‘on and off ’ for the past 14 years. His long presence in America means that Carlos expresses himself in English almost as beautifully as he does in Spanish. Both his adult novels were translated into English by Lucia Graves, (daughter of the poet Robert), but the author has kept a close eye on proceedings. ‘I am very involved in the [translation] process – rewriting, retouching and suggesting things to make sure the transition of the text is as seamless as possible. A translation will always be a translation, of course, no matter how good, and many nuances and details have to be sacrificed, but ultimately the mark of a good translation is a text that makes you forget, or [not] care, that it is coming from another language.’ Shadow has already been translated into over 40 languages, and the new book is likely to follow suit. His novels having thus been scattered to the four corners of the globe, and I think we can safely assume that – unlike his characters – Carlos Ruiz Zafón will never be forced to make that desperate pilgrimage through a stormy Barcelona night, to knock at that great wooden portal and seek out a place for his creations among the dusty volumes of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is published by Text, $34.95.