The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafón
A friend and I regularly swap books with each other. Although sometimes aiming to give them a book they’ll really enjoy, often we decide to share something that may be a little out of the normal topic or genre that they’re used to reading. It’s a great way to break out of our literary molds and be forced to read something that we may otherwise pass by in favor of something else. “In The Shadow of the Wind” is one of those books. Set in a slowly decaying Barcelona that has been overcome by fascism and an uncertain political climate, this book dips heavily into Gothic imagery and relies on a complex storyline to wave a complicated story about a teenage boy who finds a mysterious book from a secret book repository which his father introduced him to. Discovering this book is not what it seems, and quickly the protagonist is thrown into a quest to discover what really happened to the author of the book he found, and to discover why all copies of this text are being destroyed.
BUT OKAY LET’S NOT MAKE THIS A BORING REVIEW NOBODY READS. Here’s all you need to know about “In the Shadow of the Wind:”
It’s Gritty, and that’s a good thing.
This is a dark book. Characters are beat up. They die in terrible ways. After exploring abandoned mansions, they end up in even creepier environments. You can’t help but fall into this world Zafon creates.
The Main Character Is Unbelievable
Even WITH the reader thinking “well, this is a gothic novel, so I’m pretty sure it will be over the top and not altogether believable,” the author still had to assume we’d be paying attention to what the characters do and why they do it. I never really did figure out why he was doing anything, other than “it’s something to do, I suppose.” Even when his life was being threatened over this book, he was like “screw it. I’m going to solve this mystery! For the books!” Or something.
Story Arcs Begin, Stall, and Never Reappear Again
In this style of story, the reader should be looking out for all sorts of story arcs and be trying to figure out how they all fit together. This only happened about 50% of the time in “The Shadow of the Wind.” The first hundred pages or so of the book involve a 10-year-old character going after a much older girl, and is represented in all sorts of pre-teenage sexual angst. Then all of a sudden his heart is broken, he moves on, and we never really hear from her again. What the hell? Other characters just kind of appear, pledge their help, and then leave again. I can’t tell if this is a setup for a followup book, or just a case where the author got bored with these storylines.
It just kind of ends, but we probably already predicted what will happen with 20% left in the book. The only reason the reader keeps going is in hopes of clearing up why these story arcs are never mentioned again. Spoiler: they aren’t mentioned again. Reader is left unsatisfied and ultimately ends up eating a box of twinkies to fill this hole in their soul.
Read It Anyway
I’m not saying it’s a bad book or anything. When Zafon actually does address a story arc, it’s done in an over-the-top fashion and imagery that we’d come to expect from a post-WWII gothic novel. It’s gritty. It’s fun. Despite the generally angsty main character, the other figures who show up in the book are entertaining and much more fun to read about. If anything, the book is a collection of loosely assembled novellas that happen to make a larger plot. Reading each loosely defined section is great, but just don’t expect literary bliss after the author stitches these all together.