This book is tangentially a prequel to ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ in that it uses some of the same characters and it has the same obsession with the dark side of
as a backdrop to sinister and labyrinthine plots. This book adds a substantial supernatural element. Barcelona
It is pure melodrama, despite damning Grand Guignol very early: GG “does to drama what syphilis does to your privates. Getting it might be pleasurable, but from then on it’s downhill all the way.” But it does GG very well indeed. There is a mysterious house with locked rooms and secret chambers and a secret. There is the charming old gentleman who is quite literally the devil in disguise and who manipulates the narrator into a murky and devious world. There is the Inspector of Police who always just prevents his two thugs from torturing the narrator. There are the women: Cristina whom the narrator adores from afar (very Pip and Estella) and Isabella the narrator’s competent and wise-cracking Dr Watson (a wonderful character: the dialogue between narrator and Isabella is brilliant, robust and full of humour). There are mysterious buildings that are one moment brothels, surgeries or mansions and the next are burnt out ruins; libraries; a newspaper office that once housed a sulphuric acid factory; graveyards including the Cemetery of Forgotten Books: nothing and no-one are what they seem except perhaps the saintly old bookseller with his shy son. The atmosphere is dark and derelict.
On the first page I wondered whether there was a connection to Stendahl’s ‘The Red and the Black’ when the
skyline was described (in an image that occurred later in the book) as “a perpetual twilight of scarlet and black”. But there wasn’t. There were references to other book’s such as ‘Great Expectations’ but somehow all these were just there to set the scene. There is repeated reference to Angels, to Mausoleums, to Spiders and their Webs, to Death, but these seem to just be ways of painting the picture. In the end the reader is led into a labyrinth of clues and motives and false trails and then abandoned. There is no consistent ‘solution’ to the mysteries. The ‘boss’ is the devil but much of the evil is perpetrated by the last man whose soul the devil stole. Barcelona
In the final analysis this is a wonderfully atmospheric book with a convoluted plot but in the end it failed to deliver the satisfaction it promised.
July 2011; 504 pages