The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Posted 8 October, 2009 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 42 Comments

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Title: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Published: 2001 Pages: 487
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5

The Shadow of the Wind is a book for book lovers, but more than that it is also a book for lovers of words and mystery and atmosphere. In other words, this book is the perfect cozy-up book for cool, eerie October. While The Shadow of the Wind is a somewhat convoluted and twisty story, I’m going to try and keep the summary as brief as possible. Some books are better when you discover what they are about on your own, and this is definitely one of those!

The Shadow of the Wind begins as a father, who is a bookseller, takes his young son to a secret library, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, so that he can select one treasure to take home. Daniel, chooses a book entitled The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax, and through his adolescences and young adulthood he becomes entranced with both the book and the author’s mysterious life. The mystery begins to thicken when Daniel begins to uncover stories/rumors of a man who is burning copies of Carax’s books. This man takes the same name as a character from The Shadow of the Wind: Lain Coubert, the devil.

Oh the things that this book contains! Mystery! Romance! Books! Creepy old houses with strange crucifixes all over the walls! Coming of Age Story! Murder! Villains! Comedic Interjections! This book was so jam packed with elements that I really believe there is a little bit of something for everyone. We read this for our September book club meeting and my 4/5 rating was probably one of the lower ranks of the group—everyone really loved this book. I, on the other hand, only mostly loved it. While there was everything I could have hoped for in this book, I often felt like Zafón was trying to do too much.

When trying to formulate my thoughts on this book, I can’t seem to pinpoint the correct word to describe the writing. Not heavyhanded or stilted; I’m not even sure the term overwriting applies. All I can think of is the term “deadwood.” During one of my first literature courses in college, my professor made one of my papers bleed with red pen—all marked with the term, “deadwood.” According to my prof, deadwood is filler material–not really relevant to the story (or topic). Yes, I obviously haven’t learned to edit any better since then. But as I was reading this book I was continually asking myself “what does this have to do with the plot.” There were so many subplots and details that I felt really lost for the first half of the novel. This book, in my eyes, could have been at least a hundred pages shorter and a few characters less. The writing is beautiful, don’t get me wrong—in fact, take a look at this:

“Without further ado I left the place, finding my route by the marks I had made on the ways in. As I walked in the dark through the tunnels and tunnels of books, I could not help being overcome by a sense of sadness. I couldn’t help thinking that if I, by pure chance, had fund a whole universe in a single unknown book, buried in that endless necropolis, tens of thousands more would remain unexplored, forgotten forever. I felt myself surrounded by millions of abandoned pages, by worlds and souls without an owner sinking into an ocean of darkness, while the world that throbbed outside the library seemed to be losing its memory, day after day, unknowingly, feeling all the wiser the more it forgot” (76).

And to sum up how I felt for the first half of the book:

“Then, please, sire, could you get to the frigging point? Because with all the metaphorical spin and flourish, I’m beginning to feel a fiery bowel movement at the gates” (152). hee hee :)

Deadwood aside, I really found myself hooked to this book about halfway through. By that point I was so deep into the story with twists and turns and even a few “What!!” moments that the reading became much easier (and maybe the story was just more focused at this point). I think I’m in the minority with my feelings for the writing, and despite my feelings for the writing I found this book to be incredibly engaging. Sometimes I fear that my reviews are too negative, even when my feelings for the book were not completely negative. Do I focus too much on the bad? Anyway, I heartily recommend this one, especially for this fall season. There is something so comforting about curling up with a great mystery on a cold, dreary day.

For a balance of opinions:
Valentina
It’s All About Me
Devourer of Books
Fyrefly
You GOTTA Read This
Stephanie’s Written Word
WordLily
Chapter Chit Chat
Library Queue

I’m sure there are more—let me know if I missed your link. When I searched for this title in Google Reader the search results were crazy. It is helpful if you put the name of the book in the title of your post! Some of you like really catchy titles for your book reviews, which is fine, but it doesn’t make searching for your reviews very easy.

42 Responses to “The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón”

  1. This sounds like such a good read, deadwood and all! I just love the idea of a “Cemetery of Forgotten Books”. I’ve put in a request for this one at my library – 2 people are ahead of me in the queue, and both copies are currently checked out, so I think I might be reading this one during the cold, dark nights of December!

  2. Deadwood is an excellent term, and I knew exactly what you meant. I’ve seen that before in editing.

    I’m glad you mostly liked it, though. That gives me good feelings. :)

  3. I’ve never read this one, but I am currently reading his other book, The Angel’s Game. I agree that Zafon is a great writer, good at setting a creepy scene (just what I’m looking for this time of year!) and weaving a complex mystery, but I’d agree that in The Angel’s Game, too, there just seems to be a lot of…filler. For example, he exhaustively lists the name of just about every street his main character walks on. Instead of making his story more authentic, I think it just seems like unnecessary filler that is distracting from what’s actually important in the story. I’m still enjoying the story, so I guess I’m on the same page as you are without even reading the same book! =)

  4. I love this book! My whole office took turns passing it around and reading it, and I didn’t hear anyone say they didn’t enjoy it.

  5. I have this on my shelf. I can’t bring myself to start it. I have no good reason, but I’m never in the mood.

    And I totally agree about the title of the book being the title of the post.

  6. OOH that is a perfect read for the RIP challenge. You never cease to amaze me with all you are able to do. How do you do it?

  7. *WordLily – Thanks for the link.

    *Bookself Monstrosity – Being a southerner I know how slow fall comes to some places–still a good book regardless of weather.

    *Belle – Cemetery of Forgotten Books is every booklovers dream, huh? :) Hope you get your hands on this soon.

    *Amanda – LOL–deadwood isn’t so great when you’re a college sophomore and don’t know what it means! :) I’d be really interested in what you think of the writing for this one.

    *Megan – I think The Angel’s Game is a prequel to this one? I agree with some of the details detracting from the actual story–why do there have to be so many characters/settings/plotlines! :)

    *Tammy – Everyone in my book club really liked it, too. I read the first half slowly (lots of starts and stops) so that may have been a factor, too.

    *Lisa – The length is pretty daunting! I’m glad we read this for book club otherwise it probably would have collected some dust.

    *Michelle – LOL! Considering I read this book a month ago I’m not sure I agree with the “all you are able to do” statement. :) You’ve got a little one running around–give yourself credit!

    *Kim – I’ll be interested in The Angel’s Game as well–it’s supposed to be a prequel to Shadow!

  8. His stories are so gothically gloomy that I’m convinced the sun never shines in Barcelona.

    I’ll admit to being confused throughout most of this book, but I still enjoyed it. Same with The Angel’s Game.

  9. I didn’t pick up this book due to the mixed reviews I read, plus I’m not in a hurry (or having the mood) to read this book though I’ve a feeling I might add this onto my wishlist in future (thanks to the bookish theme)! :P

  10. Hi Trish, I’m with you when you said that there is something so comforting about curling up with a great mystery on a cold, dreary day.

    This is a book I’ll include into my wish list for the time being until my BBB is lifted. I really want to read this.

  11. I love that last quote. LOL

    I definitely do want to read this one. I just wish I’d get to it already. It was on my list to read last year too. Someday . . .

    I tried using first sentences from books as the titles of my posts for a while, but gave that up. I went back to using the titles.

  12. verbatim

    Good synopsis, Trish. I had a few problems with plot points, but thoroughly enjoyed reading this a couple weeks ago, nonetheless. Zafon (who has done some screenwriting) is so good at writing scenes and mood that I felt like I was watching a ’40s noir movie as I read the book. I love one of the final scenes in the abandoned mansion with the falling snow casting flickering shadows inside.

  13. I can definitely see what you mean about “deadwood” apply to The Angel’s Game. I don’t honestly remember in this book, it’s been too long and I think I was too wrapped up in it to notice!

  14. This is the second review I have read of this book this morning. Everyone I know has raved about it, but the size puts me off a little. Now you have mentioned a lot of deadwood I wonder if I should read it or not.

  15. I’ve seen reviews going both ways on this one so I’m kind of on the fence about it. Of course it’s not like I don’t have plenty to read at home right. Great review as usual Trish.

  16. *Softdrink – I was confused a lot throughout the book as well and think he could have used heavier red pen.

    *Melody – The bookish theme definitely makes this book. Well, and everything else. It was a bit windy for me, but most others looooove it.

    *Alice Teh – This is the perfect book for book lovers and the perfect book for that dreary day. Hope you like it!

    *Lit Feline – As soon as I read that passage I thought “exactly my feelings Rafon!!” :)

    *Tricia – I’ll be really curious how Angel’s Game ties into this one—I think these two are part of a 4 book series by Zafon.

    *Kailana – I think you’d like this one—get to it already!! :P

    *Charley – I know how that goes—hope you do get to read it next month!

    *Verbatim – New gravatar? I like! I didn’t know Zafon had done some screenwriting but it does really show in the atmosphere of the book. Personally I would have liked to have seen a tighter story, but I’ll take it over a 200 page book where I want more!

    *Veens – It is good despite the deadwood. Glad everyone likes that term! :)

    *Meghan – You make a good point about being wrapped up in the book. I think because I had to start and stop this one so many times I noticed the clunkiness of it more.

    *Joanna – I linked your review but it’s under “It’s All About Me” Do you want me to change the name to Lost In a Good Story? And yes, great autumn read!

    *Viv – The size is a little daunting, but once you get into the story you won’t want to put it down! Try it and see if you like it.

    *Dar – LOL—I know all about that plenty to read at home. :) This is one to keep on your list, but you don’t need to be in a hurry for it.

  17. I plan to read this as soon as I get through my current pile – which sadly will take a while, as I’ve been barely reading at all :/ Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed it, Trish!

  18. I agree about the deadwood in the book. That’s what I didn’t like about it.

    But I also agree that one gets caught up by the mystery. And that’s why I liked it.:)

    Great review!

  19. I think I made a mistake of choosing to listen to an audio version instead of reading this book. I ended up not finishing it and now I feel bad because everyone seems to love it so much. I think I’ll give it another try this time in a printed version.

  20. Wow! This books seems to contain everything I love – it’s definitely a must read! I have it on my TBR pile, but I’m waiting for at least after my mid-terms, this way I can really get into it. Great review thought – I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  21. Excellent review! I read this book when it first came out and hadn’t realized that Zafon had a new book out. I’ll definitely be adding the Angel’s Game to my reading list. Thanks!

  22. Great review, Trish!! This is one of those books I’ve had on my TBR pile forever. I’ve always meant to read it, but for some reason, I just never got around to it.

    Glad you liked it!

  23. Kim

    Carol…it’s o.k. to not like a book. I am probably one of the few who really disliked The Time Travelers Wife — read 500 of the 560 pages and threw it away. The unthinkable — Horrors!

  24. I sometimes wonder if my reviews tend to the negative as well. It’s been a few years since I read this so I remember enjoying it but not much of the actual story anymore. I’m looking forward to reading The Angel’s Game sometime soon hopefully.

  25. *Nymeth – LOL, yes, I’ve seen how big your current pile is. :) I think you’ll like this one, though.

    *Fantaghiro23 – Sounds like we are on the same page regarding the deadwood but the wonderful mystery. Have you read Angel’s Game?

    *Lilly – I definitely think Shadow would be better reading rather than listening. The story is already so convoluted that I think a momentary slip of attention would be really frustrating!

    *Bart – I hope you get a chance to read this one soon—it’s perfect for the Halloween season!

    *Kay – Definitely don’t start this one while you’re doing mid-terms! You’ll want to tear your hair out. But after all that, I hope you enjoy!!

    *EJ Stevens – If memory serves me right, Zafon will have four books in this “series”? Angel’s Game is a prelude to Shadow of the Wind.

    *Stephanie – I hope you can get to this one soon. It demanded a bit of attention on my part, but other than all that I really enjoyed it!

    *Carolsnotebook – I didn’t LOVE it, but I enjoyed it. Did you find it hard to follow?

    *Kim – Threw away Time Traveler’s Wife with only 60 pages left!?! :P and agreed—we can’t all like the same things!

    *Tanabata – I really look forward to hearing what you think of Angel’s Game! I haven’t noticed negativity in your posts, but on the other hand I kind of like knowing what a person didn’t like about a book. I’m one of those weird ones who always looks at the 1 star reviews on Amazon. :P

    *Joy – I’ll email you back. ;)

  26. I enjoyed reading this review because it’s a bit of a negative review (and I’m searching for those lately) and also because you capture the perplexities of reading this one. I found it both fascinating and boring.

  27. *Jeanne – Thank you…sometimes I feel like I’m too negative but I actually seek out those types of reviews, too! What’s wrong with us? LOL!

    *Swampna – So glad you loved this one!!

  28. I enjoyed reading this book. I think I liked it more than Angel’s Game. I liked the concept of the library of forgotten books, the atmopshere of Barcelona and I wish there were still old book stores like the ones in he book to explore!

  29. *mel u – Did you read this one before or after Angel’s Game? I’ve heard that Angel’s Game is a prelude to Shadow, is that right? I really like the idea of a cemetery for forgotten books as well!

  30. Trish-you are right Angel’s Game is a prelude but both are stand alone books-I read it first by accident-I think I enjoyed Shadow of the Wind more as I liked the central characters more and I thought it did a better job creating the atmposhere of Barcelona between the wars-

  31. *mel u – I’ve been hearing good things about Angel’s Game so I’ll probably read it eventually but I’m not in a big hurry. I think altogether the “series” will have four books–not sure what’s coming next, though.