By: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase
In May 1980, fifteen-year-old Oscar Drai suddenly vanishes from his boarding school in the old quarter of Barcelona. For seven days and nights no one knows his whereabouts. . . .
His story begins in the heart of old Barcelona, when he meets Marina and her father Germán Blau, a portrait painter. Marina takes Oscar to a cemetery to watch a macabre ritual that occurs on the fourth Sunday of each month. At 10 a.m. precisely a coach pulled by black horses appears. From it descends a woman dressed in black, her face shrouded, wearing gloves, holding a single rose. She walks over to a gravestone that bears no name, only the mysterious emblem of a black butterfly with open wings.
When Oscar and Marina decide to follow her they begin a journey that will take them to the heights of a forgotten, post-war Barcelona, a world of aristocrats and actresses, inventors and tycoons; and a dark secret that lies waiting in the mysterious labyrinth beneath the city streets.
Yeeeeeeesssss, at last I have the latest Zafon novel in my hands! I’ve been eyeing this book for so long, waiting for the publishers to translate it (to the point that I was wondering whether I should learn Spanish; it was taking so long =P). But it was finally translated and released and I pre-ordered it as soon as I saw it pop up on Chapters Indigo =P
This book is part of the Everything Espana Reading Challenge 2014 that I am participating in.
Upon finishing this novel, I had come to the conclusion that this has to be my favourite of his young adult batch. It had everything you could want in a tale: mystery, action, drama, a bit of romance, a spooky undercurrent, set in a familiar but mysterious city. Oscar Drai lives a normal life–school, friends, wandering around old Barcelona–and is drawn into a curious, and ultimately menacing, mystery when he meets Marina and her father and introduces him to a curious instance in the cemetery. It was interesting to read how all of these old stories and curious instances connected to the present story. The progression of events moved quite smoothly, drawing the readers–following Oscar and Marina–deeper and deeper into the tangle of events. Once again Barcelona takes on a mysterious facade, the perfect setting to such a Gothic tale. There’s a classic I want to reference, but I have a feeling it might spoil the reveal 😉
Two/three themes recur throughout the novel: coming of age, a strong friendship, and the nature of death. The latter colours the overarching story from the beginning with the mysterious woman going to the cemetery at the fourth Sunday of every month. Death permeates a lot of the characters that Oscar and Marina come across, the strange photos they find along the way, even in their personal lives to some degree. The reveal of the macabre happenings is also deeply rooted in the human desire to evade death. It adds to the already-haunting atmosphere of the novel.
But the heart of the novel is ultimately the friendship forged between Oscar and Marina (and Marina’s father) and this period of Oscar’s life that ultimately shaped him and his future experiences. It’s a nice change of pace amidst the mystery and the underlying menace and it’s both sweet and heartbreaking.
Marina is another fantastic tale by one of my all-time favourite authors. Fans of his books, of Gothic tales and mysteries, and young adult titles will want to check this out.