The Angel’s Game
By: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man, David Martín, makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city’s underworld. But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house lie photographs and letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner.
Like a slow poison, the history of the place seeps into his bones as he struggles with an impossible love. Close to despair, David receives a letter from a reclusive French editor, Andreas Corelli, who makes him the offer of a lifetime. He is to write a book unlike anything that has ever existed-a book with the power to change hearts and minds. In return, he will receive a fortune, and perhaps more. But as David begins the work, he realizes that there is a connection between his haunting book and the shadows that surround his home.
I’ve actually reviewed this novel a few years ago when I first read it (review) but with the release of The Prisoner of Heaven i decided it was time to re-read the book (plus it was an overall excuse to get around to re-reading the books, lol). Contains some spoilers ahead!
One thing that really struck me about this novel is that unlike The Shadow of the Wind, the second book in the cycle concerning The Forgotten Cemetery of Books (though it still feels like the first book if only because it was published before this book), The Angel’s Game focuses more on the writer and the art of writing moreso than the reader and the love of reading. Literature and reading obviously still plays a major role since they go hand in hand with writing but there’s a lot of dialogue in this novel pertaining to the writing process. As an aspiring writer myself it’s interesting to read the different ideas regarding the creative process and Martin’s various experiences as a writer: the successes and the pitfalls, the physical ramnifications and the sacrifices made and in David’s case the strangeness of the craft. I greatly enjoyed those segments of the story.
Mixed in with this discussion is the fact that this novel’s supernatural/Gothic elements are much more apparent in this novel than The Shadow of the Wind (I’m trying hard not to refer too much to the latter novel but it can’t be helped). The atmosphere of the novel is darker, the antagonist–the elusive Andreas Corelli–is more sinister. You never exactly knew what he was up to in the end, what is endgame really was. The manuscript that he had David write is shrouded in mystery; as the reader, you never learn exactly what Martin wrote but all the discussion around it and the effects of it is enough to know that it is a harmful piece. It can be interpreted as a commentary on the rise of rigid ideology in the early twentieth century but I won’t go into great detail as to why. The darkness is also psychological; at one point you do start to wonder whether David is going mad, whether he really was Corelli all along.
One thing that hasn’t changed from the first time I read the novel was David and Christina’s story. There’s something uneven about the way that their love story was presented: they are clearly very much connected to each other but the author did not spend enough time providing enough scenes that shows that strong connection early on (Edit: lol apparently I mentioned this in my first review). As a result, the impact of how their relationship unravelled isn’t as emotionally compelling as it could have been. If anything, I found David and Isabelle’s relationship much more interesting because Isabelle’s much more willful, tougher whereas Christina was fragile and pretty much in the same head space as David (to be honest I thought they had a hand in their own unhappiness).
Despite of the dark, verging-on-sinister air around this novel, I did have a good laugh over David’s attempts to get Sempere’s son to ask Isabelle out. It’s hilarious because for the most part David can be pretty self-absorbed and too intent on the strange events surrounding his business with Corelli so to see him butter up Sempere’s son and then Isabelle in return was amusing. It’s too bad that David’s life was overrun by all the supernatural oddness because he would’ve certainly wrecked havoc in Barcelona with his wiles, haha.
Overall I still enjoyed The Angel’s Game in this re-read of the novel and in some ways I think I understand the characters a bit more this time around. The book is not perfect with the use of familiar tropes and the lack of explanation and depth here and there. I can see why some people did not enjoy the book in comparison to The Shadow of the Wind with the dip into the Gothic and supernatural a little more apparent. Plus, let’s face it, David Martin is not a likeable lead per se, his flaws consume him and he can be a bit of an arse to the people around him but it makes him human and more interesting. As I had mentioned the first time around, it was nice to read about early twentieth century Barcelona (hints about what’s going on around the country are mentioned here and there) and read about the familiar places like The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and Sempere & Son bookstore.
Well, on to re-reading The Shadow of the Wind (shortly)…