Carlos Ruiz Zafón – The Angel’s Game

31Oct09


I absolutely loved The Shadow Of The Wind when I read it back in April, with its glimpse into old Barcelona, fantastic story-telling and hyperbolism extraordinaire. When The Angel’s Game hit the stores a few months back, I picked it out almost greedily, and stacked it on my bookshelf, waiting for the “right” time to pull it out, and lose myself in the magical world of Zafón’s writing.

The Angel’s Game takes us back to old Barcelona, towards the end of World War I, through the eyes of David Martin, an aspiring writer. The opening lines set the mood for the book:

A writer never forgets the first time he accepts a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.

The narrator starts off as a sensationalist story-writer; his thrillers are first published weekly in a newspaper, and he goes on to assume a pseudonym, to write a monthly series of books entitled City of the Damned. While his stories were well-received, David’s attempt at a serious novel met with bad reviews, and a combination of disappointment and enticement led him to make a deal with the devil himself : Andreas Corelli, a Parisian publisher, who offers David a small fortune, in return for David writing him an epic book, a book that would create a brand new religion, to which Corelli would play god (or, in this case, the devil).

David inadvertently gets sucked into Corelli’s game, digging up secrets from years gone by, witnessing murders, being a subject of police investigations, and almost living a life that existed in his series, City of the Damned. His best friend marries his lover, an adolescent moves in with him in order to find a writing mentor, and subsequently turning his life upside down, and his residence, a creepy tower in the sinister dark side of the city, holds infinite mysteries of its own.

The book also takes us back to the Cemetery Of Forgotten Books, an incredible concept that Zafón introduced in his debut novel, and it sounds equally fantastic. This time, David goes there to hide a book, and is subject to the same rules as Daniel was in The Shadow Of The Wind.

However, that’s where the similarity ends. The book has some great characters, with Isabella (the adolescent who seeks David out to be her mentor) being a personal favourite, but the story was disjointed, and had way too many bizarre things happening, leading to a disappointing ending, where the loose ends remain untied. The book started promisingly, and is quite fast-paced, but in my opinion, it’s at the expense of things not being explained coherently, or the writing being rushed.

Zafón’s a talented writer, and there are phrases and sentences that leapt off the page and made me chuckle, or nod in agreement. Like his protagonist, he seems to be a sensationalist writer, enjoying the luxury of hyperboles and scandal. In fact, in parts the book, I thought that some of David’s experiences were first hand accounts – the way David is treated by his publishers, the art of procrastination, and the way of research.

It’s unfortunate, so, that his second book didn’t live up to all the hype that the first book had created.

Rating: 2.5

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8 Responses to “Carlos Ruiz Zafón – The Angel’s Game”

  1. What did you think of the ending? I was a bit flabbergasted to be honest. I’m still not sure what happened.

    • The epilogue?

      I found it an abrupt and unexplained ending, and I wasn’t satisfied with it at all.

      ** Start Spoiler Alert **

      David not ageing was strangely reminiscent of Dorian Gray, who hadn’t aged in years, after he sold his soul. That’s the first thing I thought of…

      Christina’s reappearance is bizarre, and there’s no explanation as to who the child really is: Is it really Christina, from the past? If yes, does Corelli have magical powers (or supernatural powers)? Or, is it a child born out of a union between Corelli and somebody else, or Christina and someone else?

      And why did Corelli “return” Christina to David, despite David not fulfilling his end of the contract?

      Personally, I think it’s Christina from the past, because of the whole “photograph” link. When Christina is flipping through the album, there’s a picture of herself with a strange man, who she is unable to place at that point in time. Is that the same photograph as the one taken on the beach in the epilogue?

      ** End Spoiler Alert **

  2. I didn’t enjoy Shadow of the Wind when I read it on its release. I didn’t make it to the end, so this one was never going to appeal. I’m pleased to hear that I’m not missing out on anything!

  3. I really enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind and have this book waiting to be read. I haven’t read your review in great detail in case it tells me more than I want to know, but I will be disappointed if, like you, I find it now to be as good as the previous book.

  4. That’s too bad this second one didn’t live up to your expectations. Maybe I’ll just read the first one and leave it at that.

  5. Having never encountered this writer, it still sounds as if there is much to be found and enjoyed, even as coherency takes a back seat. But maybe go with the earlier title first?

  6. @Jackie : Oh, that’s a pity. I loved Shadow of the Wind. However, if you didn’t like it, I don’t think you’ll make 100 pages here.

    @Random Reflections : I’ve tried not to give anything away. I’d be quite interested to hear what you think of it, and really hope you won’t be disappointed. The flamboyant writing still exists!

    @charley : Yeah, sounds like a plan!

    @Sarah : You’re right – I mean, his writing style is incredible, and he just weaves words like magic. I know three people who are reading Shadow Of The Wind right now, and all of them are loving it.

  7. 8 Claudia Baggerly

    I didn’t enjoy ‘The Angel’s Game’ until I finished it. I closed the book at the end satisfied after not liking it all the time I was reading it! I loved ‘Shadow of the Wind’ and snatched this one up as soon as it was out. It remained on my table for quit a while. Why did I like it? The author succeeded in making me think about what I would have done in so many situations in the book when frustrated I wondered: Why did David do that? Why didn’t David …? I was completely frustrated by the room in his house that held so much mystery and apparent evil, but he just closed the door and let it all fester! The author got so much reaction out of me and I believe that was the point. I liked myself more after reading the book. I liked the way I would have reacted and acted. But I don’t believe me telling you this will make you want to read it, or even have the same reaction I did. I’m not sure if I’ll read anymore magical realism, though.


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