Monday, July 27, 2009

Review: The Angel's Game

The Angel's Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafón; translated by Lucia Graves

Doubleday Hardcover, 2009
ISBN 978-0385528702
544 pages

You know, I sometimes wonder about people. Unless a book's denouement is beautifully gift wrapped with a neatly tied bow and a cherry on top, readers complain about it. At least that is the case on, where many reviewers are confused, disappointed, and frustrated by The Angel’s Game ending.

Never mind that on the same product page Zafón says,
"The Angel’s Game has many games inside, one of them with the reader. It is a book designed to make you step into the storytelling process and become a part of it."
For me, I loved this entire book, including its ambiguous ending. The Angel’s Game is simply marvelous, a throwback to the “true” classics that require a reader to think. Zafón refers to one game with the reader; I believe the game is the book as a whole.

That said, attempting to recap the story in a paragraph or two is difficult.

Barcelona, the 1920s. David Martín, a talented writer, is the protagonist. Or is he? While writing a successful series of penny dreadfuls at breakneck speed for two penny-pinching men who publish them, Martín finds out he has a fatal brain tumor. Or is it? Enter Andreas Corelli, a publisher from Paris and an admirer of David’s writing. Corelli makes David an offer that is difficult to refuse: 100,000 francs, a fortune, in return for writing a book that will change the hearts and minds of its readers. When David refuses on the grounds of his short life span and his publishing contract, Corelli tells him not to worry. Martín stays the night at Corelli's, dreams of an operation, and when he wakes the tumor is gone. Or is it? Shortly thereafter, his publishers die when their office is set afire, thus voiding the contract. It is obvious (is it?) that Corelli is responsible for the cure and the fire—he must be some sort of supernatural creature and our antagonist. Or is he?

I must ask these questions because everything that occurs in this book is set in quicksand. David Martín is a man obsessed. Obsessed with the previous owner of his stone fortress home. With unrequited and tragic love. With freshly murdered bodies and he the suspect. With Corelli and Corelli's book. David is a man teetering on the edge of sanity and I, as part of the storytelling process, am standing right beside him.

I can prove it. From page 404 of The Angel's Game:
"I recalled how the old bookseller had always told me that books have a soul, the soul of the person who wrote them and of those who read them and dream about them."


Barbara Bruederlin said...

It does sound a little perplexing, but certainly worth the effort. Now if only I could work my way through this pile of bedside books first.

Mary Witzl said...

(I commented on this yesterday, but our stupid computer connection fritzed out on me and ate my comment)

Quite honestly, this doesn't look like my kind of book, but both your review and the fact that my eldest daughter LOVED Zafon's 'Shadow of the Wind' would make me buy it and read it anyway.

And you are definitely a straight shooter -- good for you!

Charlie said...

BARBARA: Maybe you'll remember this book when it's issued in paperback. It is a fun read.

MARY: Eldest daughter will love this one too—it is a prequel to Shadow of the Wind, which I really liked too.

Michael said...

I can enjoy ambiguous endings, so long as it doesn't seem like the author wrote himself into a corner and couldn't figure how to get out. I've read a book or two like that, and instead of being 'edgy', I considered them sloppy.

Charlie said...

Nothing like that here, Michael. I feel that Zafón knew what he was about from the beginning.

Meg said...

I'm getting tired of all those predictable stories, so a thinker sounds good.

kara said...

whenever i read translated books, all i can think about are all the adjectives that are missing. really.

Peter S. said...

Hi Charlie! I found Zafon's first novel a great read, that's why I'm a bit wary reading his second novel. After reading your review, I guess I'll read it soon.

Book Bird Dog said...

I loved the Shadow of the Wind and didn't like that the Angel's Game started out in a newsroom! I'll have to pick up the book again!

Jimmy Bastard said...

You've whetted my appetite, I'll give it a go.

PI said...

I'm tempted after reading that. Not that I wish penny pinching publishers to come to a sticky end...