I first read this soon after it came out, directly after rereading The Shadow of the Wind. I think this was possibly a mistake as Shadow then effectively overshadowed The Angel’s Game when it should be allowed to stand in its own right. I have just reread it and it was as if for the first time: the wonderfulness of this book hardly needs to be described. Zafón is already a bestselling author and I wonder if – among other more obvious reasons such as talent, brilliance, imagination – it’s because the book appeals to less literary types (like me) who are unlikely to know much about other European writers…give or take several Scandinavian crime writers and other literary greats such as Umberto Eco.
There are familiar elements in Angel that readers of Shadow will recognise: old Barcelona (obviously…almost a character in itself); the Sempere & Son bookshop, run by the grandfather of the main character in Shadow (it’s interesting to note that the “son” in Angel has no name and as Sempere Snr, has no name either in Shadow (unless I’ve missed it somehow); the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, managing somehow to be weirder. There are probably more literary illusions in this book than I would know about but the ones that I could at least recognise were Great Expectations and Faust.
The theme here is writing. David Martín is a writer but one doomed to remain unknown, something that every writer is familiar with, particularly the pain of being unknown, unread and unappreciated. Would you make a deal with the devil to live, to write? But this book isn’t so obvious that you know just who Andreas Corelli is.
For me the most wonderful aspect of this book is its bizarreness. What genre could possible fit? Supernatural horror? Magical realism? Detective thriller with a twist or two? Fantastical madness? Pinning a genre to it is just horrible: it seems to detract at once from its brilliance and it is brilliant. You can’t ever really be sure what’s happening in this book, what is real, what isn’t, what should be, what could be, when the truth is something no one believes.
I won’t be the first or last writer to wish I could write as well as this, to have the gift of telling one story while in fact, it’s another story entirely that you are reading, one you didn’t even know you were reading, so that when you are finished, you feel compelled to go back to the beginning and read it all over again, with a different point of view.
The word “gothic” seems to be thrown at this a lot but somehow it twists away from that label as well because it’s too clever and too deep-felt.
Fresh from its pages, I think this is a better book than Shadow. If he keeps getting better, then I can’t wait for the next one (knowing my slowness on these matters, it’s probably already out….)