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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Book Review – The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

[This review has already been published on Amazon and at http://lilychildsfeardom.blogspot.com]

If ever a book left me feeling I could never make it as an author then Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Angel’s Game is it. Set in pre-civil war Barcelona Zafón’s tale of intrigue and murder twists and turns at relentless speed.

The Angel’s Game features writer David Martìn, son of a drunken father and a disinterested, absent mother. Martìn is thrown into the somewhat seedy realm of journalism after his father is murdered in the street and the young David is taken under the wing of Señor Vidal, one of the city’s wealthy sons. Taking pity on the lad Vidal finds David a job at the offices of a newspaper he has connections with, and quickly becomes David’s mentor, friend and benefactor.

As David Martìn moves up, down and sideways through the world of writing his own life becomes as strange as the penny dreadfuls he pens. Taking up residence in the mysterious, derelict Tower House the young author writes day and night until he can barely breathe. He rarely eats, he never sleeps. His volatile existence is fuelled by cigarettes, coffee and alcohol.

Even with the constants of Vidal’s support and friendship, the all-seeing eye of bookseller Señor Sempere and the unrequited love of the beautiful and unobtainable Cristina, a barrage of events dart at Martìn from every direction. Violence hangs around every corner. Ghosts from the past come unbidden into the here and now. The Tower House reveals itself. We are left in no doubt that all is not as it seems.

David Martìn’s Barcelona is a surreal place of twisting alleys and sprawling mansions, steamy docklands and towering mountains. Readers of Zafón’s first novel The Shadow of the Wind will be familiar with the Cemetery of Forgotten Books – recalling the library with both affection and fear. Here, in this most secret of places Martìn unleashes the key that will turn everything, strange as it already is, on its head. Who is the angel playing the game of the book’s title?

The pace of this novel is exhilarating. The atmosphere – noir and gothic yet coloured with Mediterranean spice. Death and love seem interchangeable in the Spanish psyche and Zafón spins these contrasts round and around, revisiting them from every angle.

Zafón is the master of description. His well-crafted prose is sprinkled with a menace laced with dark poetry. The Angel’s Game excels in edginess, a sensation that reminds me of another angel – Alan Parker’s 1987 film Angel Heart starring Mickey Rourke. The bizarre lifestyle of David Martìn is reminiscent of works by Burroughs.

Finishing this book I felt exhausted. Bereft - cheated even that something so powerful and addictive had been taken from me. I can honestly say that this is one of the most riveting and exciting novels I have ever read. Any fiction that can make me gasp out loud goes straight to the top of my list. Highly recommended.
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