The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Lost in a labyrinth…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Barcelona, 1945. Young Daniel Sempere is the son of an antiquarian book dealer, struggling to scrape a living in a city not yet recovered from the ravages of civil war. Daniel’s mother died when he was very young, and on the day that he suddenly discovers he can no longer remember her face, his father, as a kind of distraction, takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books – a mysterious place full of labyrinthine corridors where rare and banned books are piled randomly on shelves. There, Daniel is told he should select a book and it will then be his responsibility to ensure that his chosen book survives. Daniel selects a book called The Shadow of the Wind by a forgotten author called Julián Carax. That night he reads the book…

Under the warm light cast by the reading lamp, I was plunged into a new world of images and sensations peopled by characters who seemed as real to me as my surroundings. Page after page I let the spell of the story and its world take me over, until the breath of dawn touched my window and my tired eyes slid over the last page. I lay in the bluish half-light with the book on my chest and listened to the murmur of the sleeping city. My eyes began to close, but I resisted. I did not want to lose the story’s spell or bid farewell to its characters just yet.

And that almost precisely describes my reaction to this book, with the one proviso that it took me considerably longer than one night to read! It crept up on me gradually and for a while I wasn’t sure whether I was going to love it, but right from the beginning I found the writing compelling and intensely more-ish. And then the story began to darken and deepen, and I found myself lost, wandering the gloomy streets of Barcelona, past the decaying old houses deserted by those who had lost their wealth in the war, past the walls still pock-marked by bullets, searching with Daniel for the truth about what had happened to Julián Carax…

Book 10

It transpires that there is a man – no one knows who he is – who is bent on destroying all remaining copies of Carax’s books – no one knows why. When Daniel is threatened by this man, he decides he must find out what happened to Carax, who fled Barcelona for Paris and subsequently disappeared. It is said that he returned during the confusion of the war and, like so many others, met a violent death on the streets of Barcelona. But was this random chance? Or was Carax’s death deliberate, and if so, what was the motive? As Daniel searches, he finds that his own life seems to have many parallels to Julián’s – will Julián’s tragedy become his too?

There’s a whole bunch of great characters – Daniel himself, whom we see grow from boy to man over the course of the story; his best friend, Fermín Romero de Torres, a beggar whom Daniel and his father befriend, giving him a job in the bookshop, and who provides a good deal of humour along the way; the evil Fumero, now a police inspector, a man who used the war as an excuse to practice his sadism, and is still corrupt and still feared by the people of the city. There’s the mysterious man who wants to burn all Carax’s books – a man so strange and frightening that Daniel is not sure if he is human or devil. And then there’s the story within the story – Julián’s story – where we meet his friends and family, all of whom play a role in the mystery of his life. Two parallel love stories run through the book – Julián’s long-ago, passionate, forbidden love for Penélope, which is at the heart of the mystery; and Daniel’s new, equally passionate, forbidden love for Beatriz. In both cases, the girls’ families see the men as beneath their class, unsuitable for their daughters. (The female characters are not nearly as well drawn as the men, but I’m not in the mood to criticise!)

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The whole tone is Gothic, full of crumbling buildings, labyrinths, exalted love and melodramatic tragedy. And it’s wonderfully done. This is not a sunny fiesta city – this Barcelona is a place where it rains endlessly, where people are poor and afraid, where the scars of war show on the buildings, and on the bodies and in the souls of the inhabitants. Zafón does a wonderful job of depicting a city in the aftermath of civil war, where so many small and large tragedies have happened, and where now people must put old enmities away and find some way to live together again. Fear and death stalk the streets, with the authorities and some individuals still taking revenge against those they see as enemies. And the people who should be symbols of safety – the police – are the most vengeful and vicious of all, led by Fumero, a man who uses torture and death to further his own aims.

But in reality the war aftermath is all an aside – an interesting setting to set up the Gothic tone. First and foremost, this is simply a great story, wonderfully told. And as it slowly, very slowly, unfolds, it becomes mesmeric – every word seems perfectly designed to lead us to the next. By the halfway point I was completely absorbed in the labyrinthine plot – lost, at that stage, but with total confidence that I was in the hands of a master who would lead me eventually to the centre where the truth would be revealed. And when it was, I found it completely satisfying – both stories brought to wonderfully believable, emotive conclusions.

I avoided this book for years because it received so much hype, but for once this is one that fully deserves all the praise lavished on it. If you are one of the two remaining people in the world who haven’t read it, then I highly recommend you do! Marvellous!

Amazon UK Link

52 thoughts on “The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

    • I wasn’t at all sure whether this one would work for me or not, having been put off by all the hype around it. But happily I was wrong! It really does live up to its reputation for once! 😀

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  1. Oh, this sounds excellent! I’d avoided it because, despite enjoying some forms of fantasy, I am extremely leary of magical realism – but this sounds completely up my street and will be going on my TBR straight away.

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    • D’you know, it was the magical realism aspect that put me off too, but there isn’t any in it! There’s zero magic or fantasy – absolutely nothing that couldn’t happen in the real world! I don’t know why it’s got that reputation – it must just be the strangely unsettling Gothic atmosphere that gives it a sense of unreality, or something. 😂 I don’t know, but trust me – no magic, no magical realism!

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  2. Isn’t it wonderful when a book lives up to the hype and you just want to stay lost in it? I love when that happens to me, FictionFan! And I just love the context of this one! I mean, books – being custodian of a book – what a great idea. I don’t want to go on and on, but I just might have to put this one on my list. Don’t tell the other books on the TBR, please!

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    • I know – I’m so wary of hyped books, but sometimes it’s justified! And at heart this is just a great feat of storytelling – I’m sure people have had fun analysing it to death, but the story is enough on its own to have grabbed me and refused to let go! Haha, just tell the other books on your TBR you’ve been selected as guardian of this one you’re adding – they’ll understand! 😉

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    • Yes, I hadn’t made that connection but I see what you mean! Great story, loads of quirky characters, darkness and humour, and the city itself playing a role – you’re right! I loved it, and I really wasn’t sure I would. I’ll probably go on to read the next one, but I’ll bear in mind your warning that it’s not as good. 😀

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    • Me too – that’s why I’m so reluctant to read these hyped books, and only decided to read this one because of the Spanish Civil War connection. But for once I felt the hype was justified! 😀

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    • If only there was more time for re-reading! I get so caught up in new books that I rarely find time to re-read an old favourite, but this one would definitely be worth a re-visit if you can fit it in. 😀

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  3. I’ve never heard of it! You’ve convinced me, though, and I’ve put it on my wishlist. The audio version is a whopping 18 hours! Do you think it would be better read or listened to? Also…. it appears to be book one in a series of four. Will you read more?

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    • Haha, yes, it’s a monster! Who’s the narrator? On Audible it’s Daniel Weyman, and he’s supposed to be very good. I don’t know – I enjoyed reading it, but I think it would work well as an audiobook too if the narrator is good. It’s quite complicated though, and I find I can cope better with complicated plots on paper or Kindle. I probably will read the next one, but I’ve been told by a couple of people that the other ones aren’t as good as this first one, so I’ll probably wait for a while – don’t want to spoil the feeling I have about this one!

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  4. Oh dear. I guess I’m one of the two who haven’t read this one yet. Sigh. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much, though, and your glowing review makes me think perhaps I should give it a chance.

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    • Haha, well, I may have underestimated since at least three people have now claimed not to have read it! 😉 It’s a hefty read but well worthwhile if you ever find the time to fit it in… 😀

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  5. How marvelous that you enjoyed this so much, I did love the descriptions of reading and books and libraries, with some reservations about the later plot. I still think that last book of short stories by Ruiz Zafón is even better!

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    • I liked the way the plot worked out in the end, though the plot was definitely secondary to the Gothic atmosphere in why I loved it so much. I shall try to fit the short stories in! 😀

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  6. Sounds like you have the same attitude that I have—are highly skeptical of the books that get so much praise at first. I’ve been disappointed so many times and only pleasantly surprised a few times.

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    • I liked how it ended! In fact, there was almost nothing about it I didn’t like, except perhaps the slowish start – the Clara stuff – but once I got hooked, I was hooked for good! I agree the characters aren’t well-defined, but for me that was part of the mystery and the kind of shadowy atmosphere. Oh well, as always these things are so subjective!

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  7. Oh boy, a book about books! I can definitely see the appeal in this one, and you speak so highly of it, I wonder if it’s one I should take out from the library – one of my forays into classics is perhaps needed soon…

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    • I think you might enjoy this one, Anne, especially since it seems to have been so widely loved by most of the people who’ve read it. It is quite a long read though so you’d need to fit it in at some point when you have a bit of time available!

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  8. The book sounds really interesting. I will look at the library for it, but at ~500 pages it is a bit too long for me right now. I’ve added on goodreads too, not to forget about it.

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    • With your interest in the Spanish Civil War, I suspect you would find this interesting in the same way that I did, plus it really is a great story well told! Definitely one to keep in mind for a time when you have more opportunity for leisure reading…

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  9. Dare I say it….? I’ll whisper….. 🤫 I actually didn’t like this one. I know – you’ve probably fainted from shock. Hope there’s some chocolate close by to revive you. I ought to have liked this and I just didn’t though I did read to the end. It was ages ago. Maybe just the wrong time. I’m trying to remember why. It was too long and too slow. But I like long slow books about books with superb writing and a Dickensian feel 😲 I’m at a loss to know what went wrong! Glad you enjoyed it though 😄

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    • To be honest, it doesn’t surprise me that you didn’t like it. I feel it was very much a matter of timing with me – on a different day I may well have hated it! But somehow it fitted my mood at the moment, I think partly because I’ve been reading so much about the Spanish Civil War recently which made me enjoy the setting. I know also that a lot of people really disliked the ending, and I was just lucky in that it appealed to my Gothic-loving soul! So I will forgive you for not enjoying it… 😉

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    • Thank you! I was really doubtful as to whether I would like it at all, mainly because I had got the impression that it was a magical realism book, but it really isn’t! So I’m glad that my Spanish Civil War challenge encouraged me to pick it up anyway – a really great book!

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