20 July 2012

Book Review: Carlos Ruíz Zafón's The Prisoner of Heaven

this is by no means a professional book review.  i've done those - they're no fun.  i don't like to capitalize my writing unless i deem it absolutely necessary.  this may ramble, repeat, and what not, but it's written in hopes that you too will fall into the hypnotic, romantic, labyrinthian noir of mid-20th century Barcelona that Carlos Ruíz Zafón so vividly portrays in this series of novels (Shadow of the Wind, The Angel's Game, and this - the 3rd installment).  although i found The Angel's Game to be, quite honestly, the best book i've read in a decade, i'm starting with this review since i just polished it off - the book, that is.  i'll revisit the others, refresh, and do the same for them as well.

Zafón's story revolves around Daniel Sempere, a bookkeep who works in his father's shop, Sempere & Sons, which has obviously been in his family for years.  we're placed in the mid-20th century at first, but what Zafón does so brilliantly is take you from one period of Spain to the next, alternating between pre-civil war times to mid-civil war then back to post-Franco Spain.  having studied these times in my academic life, accounts of these times are horrifying and Zafon's descriptions - being either physical, psychological, or even emotional - live up to all i've encountered. Daniel has a wife and child, lives a modest life, and doesn't seem too interesting at all; yet, Zafón's world of quasi-magical realism brings demons and devils to life, only to be countered by the wit and strength of real world angels.  it brings out secrets in each and every character, whom you may both grow to fear and shed tears for in a matter of pages.

i want to say the central character in this 3rd novel is Fermín Romero de Torres - Daniel's lifelong friend, crazed philosopher, lover of women, and extra hand at Sempere & Sons.  before Prisoner, Fermín is the joker, the character that brings humor into the darkest moment.  more or less a scalawag, we don't know much about him from the previous novels - or should i say about his life and background.  well, Zafón lays it all out in these pages.  we find out who Fermín Romero de Torres really is and it's one hell of a ride.  from within the annals of Fermín's story comes the roots of the novel within the novel, The Angel's Game by one of Fermín's favorite and Spain's most loathed author's, David Martín.  the two come in contact during the war in times of utter dispair.  i will not even begin to spoil.  but we do end up finding out the origin of the book, from which we begin to find the secrets to an inner life Barcelona would wish to hold dear and secret in the center of its lugubrious heart. 

as i said before, i want to say Fermín is the focal point - and he is - but what we find out from his lifelong struggle as a nobody (literally) leads to a web of connections between all the characters: Daniel, his father - Señor Sempere, Daniel's deceased mother - Isabella...  even Daniel's son, Julián, who is named for another inter-novel writer, Julián Carax - whose writings are the focal point of The Angel's Game.  while Fermín searches for his true identity, his is not the only one revealed.

although Zafón's writing can be gory at times, it's real.  there's no softening of the skin when you read the descriptive qualities of, say, a burlap sack in a jail cell.  the words "stench" and "filth" are virtually slathered onto the pages - you can literally almost smell the very smells which Fermín is enduring.  Zafón's writing is deep, detailed, and visual.  it's almost entrancing.  the story moves along in stages, winding through time, space, and the characters' minds almost seamlessly.  a true talent it takes to mesh such an elaborately baroque tale by way of three phenomenally written novels.  

1 comment:

  1. bien hecho, amigo. bien freaking hecho. i'm looking forward to reading and comparing notes.