The streets of post-war Barcelona are veiled in The Shadow of the Wind, and something lurks in the darkness. This is the truth that Daniel Sempere learns as he endeavors to uncover the secrets of the eponymously named book he found as a child in a secret library. The book, written by one Julián Carax, may be the last surviving piece of the author’s work; someone has committed himself to destroying every copy printed under Carax’s name. Carlos Ruiz Zafón guides his reader through the gothic and enchanting Barcelona cityscape via Daniel’s investigations. Among descriptions that paint the old beauty of the setting, the author also creates a sinister air which suggests danger under every cobblestone. This duality is complemented by dense characters that are seldom as they seem. Zafón’s physical descriptions and careful dialogue disclose deceptions to the perceptive reader. Just as the image of a cigarette alight in the dark pulls the reader into the shadows, so too does each dismissive word or nervous glance ask the reader to inquire further after the characters’ pasts.
Zafón pays homage to older Romantic and Gothic writers with his elegant prose ripe with skillful metaphor. Readers afraid of bristling with envy at the imagery should leave this book alone. Readers ready with a stack of notes to mark memorable quotations, however, should uncap their highlighters – there’s no shortage. Similarly poetic is the description of the characters and their dialogue. This results in vivid exchanges that remind the reader of watching a film. At times, this results in some excessively dramatic exchanges. Despite the allure of the writing, it’s still evident that real people don’t talk or act like these characters sometimes do. Granted, many of the characters are well-read and eloquent, but the author sacrifices more believable dialogue in favor of profound and quotable quips. Zafón at times strays into an overabundance of stylistic writing – the same thing that captures you might lose you too.
The Shadow of the Wind will not be filed away under great literature. Sometimes it feels overwrought, though this may be partially the fault of the translator. It won’t instigate tremendous introspection. It will leave you caring about the characters and enchanted with its gothic Barcelona. It will leave you thinking about it in between readings and days after your finish. If you want beautiful writing and a story to invest yourself in, this book will deliver those expectations. You’ll sprint through this book just as quickly as I did.