Wanted: talented, desperate writer to pen a book for the Devil.
That's the idea driving "The Angel's Game," the follow-up to Carlos Ruiz Zafón's 2004 international bestseller, "The Shadow of the Wind."
"The Angel's Game" is a strange creature, a literary centaur in which a meditation on the craft of writing is combined with a thriller about David Martín, a master of pulp and Grand Guignol.
"I'm an author of penny dreadfuls," he says of himself, "that don't even carry my name." And yet, whether readers know his name or not, David has 1920s Barcelona under his spell, first with a newspaper serial, "The Mysteries of Barcelona," and later with novels under the collective title "The City of the Damned."
That title is very apt for a city that Zafón describes in this manner: "I could see people lying on mattresses and sheets on some of the neighbouring flat roofs, trying to escape the suffocating heat and get some sleep. In the distance, the three large chimneys in the Paralelo area rose like funeral pyres spreading a mantle of white ash." He veils the city in smoke the way Victorian London holds the patent on fog.
David relishes his success, even though it's anonymous, even though it comes at the cost of grinding writing sessions that produce "storms of nausea and burning stabs in my brain." Some of his friends believe he is ruining his talent, and Zafón poses a question early that characters return to in their conversations: What matters more, creating art for a select few, or reaching as many people as possible with a vehicle that's the equivalent of the new "Transformers" movie?
David's beloved from childhood, Cristina, sees it as an either-or situation. "The woman I love," he says of her, "thinks I'm wasting my life. . . . "
Others, like the bookseller Sempere (whose grandson goes on to be the hero of "The Shadow of the Wind") knows this attitude is far too naive. The quality of one's art, he tells the young man, must be measured in other ways. "This book is a piece of your heart, Martín," he says of one of David's books. And, what's more, "it is also a piece of my heart." For the old man, the true value in a work of art is this power to possess a reader, whether the marketplace applauds or boos.
Poor consolation for David, who's penniless, ill and helpless as Cristina marries a friendly rival. And just when all hope seems gone, his savior arrives: a French publisher named Andreas Corelli. He wants David to use his pulp skills to create a magnificent fable as passionate and compelling as anything in the Bible -- and in exchange, Corelli promises fantastic wealth and a promise to restore David's health, which is rapidly fading. David can't believe his luck -- or in his own apparent worthiness.
"I think you judge yourself too severely," Corelli responds. "I've been watching you for years. . . . I've read all your work. . . . I dare say I know you better than you know yourself. Which is why I'm sure that in the end you will accept my offer."
"Offer" -- wouldn't "pact" be a better term? With his fashionable white suit, an angel pin gleaming on his lapel, his long fingers and black, predatory eyes, Corelli's diabolical identity is about as hard to miss as Robert De Niro's Louis Cyphre in the 1987 movie "Angel Heart" (remember when he picked up a hard-boiled egg, a symbol of the soul, and sank his teeth into it?). Zafón hardly conceals Corelli's identity. When David asks, for instance, "What did you want to be as a child, Señor Corelli?," the publisher's answer is quite candid: "God."
This won't spoil anything -- the greater mystery of "The Angel's Game" is that David isn't the first client of Corelli's to take on this assignment. In fact, David soon learns that the former owner of the shabby tower house that he rents -- a man named Diego Marlasca (note their common initials) -- had once written a book for the same publisher. By looking into this vanished figure's fate, David realizes what may happen to him if he doesn't fulfill his contract -- or maybe even if he does.
This quest, though, isn't nearly as successful as the book's opening section, which follows David's early writing career. There's just something thrilling about watching a young person in the first flush of his powers, and Zafón captures David's swagger and cockiness wonderfully. The search for what happened to Marlasca, however, becomes at times a little too crowded with plot hurdles -- there's too much that must be cleared before the final showdown can occur.
Zafón also returns to the great set piece of "Shadow of the Wind," the Cemetery of Forgotten Books -- an immense subterranean library of winding corridors containing "the sum of centuries of books that have been lost and forgotten, books condemned to be destroyed and silenced forever." While this vast repository is clearly an echo of Umberto Eco's medieval library in "The Name of the Rose," the cemetery also reminds us of something else: the difficulties facing any writer. What's been forgotten outweighs what we remember.
If the odds of success are this bad, why, then, would anyone want to become a writer? Every scribe has to answer this for him or herself, but at least they can find some solace in a simple fact asserted by "The Angel's Game": Writing doesn't come easy to anybody, not even the Devil.
Noticia publicada en www.latimes.com
Pulpy, melodramatic and compulsively readable, The Angel's Game is the second of a proposed four books set in Barcelona. Ruiz Zafón spoke to TIME about his obsession with storytelling, the e-book revolution and why the media don't care about literature.
Both The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game revolve around this dark, magical place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Could you describe it and talk about when the idea for that very vivid place popped into your mind?
The Cemetery of Forgotten Books is like the greatest, most fantastic library you could ever imagine. It's a labyrinth of books with tunnels, bridges, arches, secret sections — and it's hidden inside an old palace in the old city of Barcelona. It's a secret place that very few people know about, and in there you can find all of the books that have been lost, that have been forgotten and that people have tried to destroy. This place is maintained by a secret society of people that are trying to preserve books and memories and ideas. It has been around probably for centuries. And the thing is, the first time you are introduced to this place, you have the right to choose one book from the hundreds of thousands in this huge labyrinth. And when you pick that book, you become responsible for it, and you have to make sure that it never disappears, that it's never destroyed.
The idea came to me probably in the late '90s. I think it came from something that I was becoming aware of at the time, which was the destruction of memory, the destruction of history. I've always thought that we are what we remember, and the less we remember, the less we are. So thinking that and driving across the country and finding all these fantastic used bookstores that nobody was paying attention to — all these things were tumbling around my mind, and at some point I came up with this image of this place. It was clear that it was a visual metaphor, not just for forgotten books, but forgotten people and ideas.
Your characters are obsessed with books, partly because of the Cemetery and partly because one of the other main settings is a bookstore. Have you always surrounded yourself with books?
My childhood was surrounded by books and writing. From a very early age I was fascinated by storytelling, by the printed word, by language, by ideas. So I would seek them out. I didn't have access to a wonderful bookstore like the one in the book, but in many ways what I've always been doing is making up stories and characters. Even before I learned to read and write, I was telling stories. I always knew that I was going to be a writer because there was no other choice. I was always fascinated by the fact that you could take paper and ink and create worlds, images, characters. It seemed like magic.
You say that you're enchanted by books and ink and paper — you seem to place a premium on the printed word, the actual product. Have you given much thought to how that might all change with e-books?
That's all about distribution. I don't think it has to do with books or with literature or storytelling. The history of publishing has had this evolution, where even if we go back to the 19th century, when some of the greatest novels of all time were written, publishing was very different. People were not necessarily buying books, they were reading stories in installments and newspapers and magazines, and some of those stories would later be compiled into volumes. But the entire culture of book-selling and publishing was very different. What we know today is a product of the 20th century. Where it is going in the future, I don't know. But I think the nature of storytelling, of language, of literature will never disappear because it's just part of human nature.
Is this conversation occurring in Spain and in Europe as well? Is this as big a deal over there?
I don't think in Europe it's such a big deal. People are talking about it, but I see much more concern in American publishing. I think a lot of it has to do with the way books and literature are dealt with in the media. It's very hard in the mass media in the U.S. to get exposure for books. There's very little space, and a lot of newspapers are shrinking their space. But if you go to Europe, you find that a lot of newspapers and TV shows and radio shows are constantly featuring writers. It's part of people's lives. Here it seems like only serious readers are concerned about those things. Books and literature don't seem to be part of the mainstream. Which is a shame.
Noticia publicada en www.time.com
There are other winks at Great Expectations, which soon gets name-checked and finally appears as a gift to the young hero that causes him to be beaten black and blue by his father - a lost, violent, book-hating soul from the putrid underworld of early 20th century Barcelona.
The cemetery of books from The Shadow of the Wind reappears here, along with the Sempere and Sons bookshop, as the hero tastes the bitter fruits of his fall into temptation. "If Shadow is the good girl in the family, The Angel's Game is the wicked stepsister," is how Zafón explains things.
He, like Dickens, also has a city to write about. The Angel's Game is set in his native Barcelona, whose back streets, parks, cemeteries, slums, eccentric architecture, violent 1920s underclass and well-heeled bourgeoisie provide fertile ground for the imagination. What better, after all, for a writer of gothic tales than to have a ready-made gothic quarter to hand? Its labyrinthine and intimidating streets provide the perfect setting for the dark, terrible deeds that seed his story with mystery, blood and tension. Barcelona is a character in itself. Lovers of the city will enjoy being tugged down its more claustrophobic streets and taken on a tour of the still-fresh splendours imposed on the city by Gaudí and the 1929 great exhibition.
Barcelona's soaring Tibidabo mountain is said to be named after the words used by Satan to tempt Christ: "All these things will I give thee (tibi-dabo)." Zafón constantly invites us to see Barcelona, his "city of the damned", from above. He takes us into sinful corners, indulging fantasies that are erotic, magical or violent. In the end Zafón is the tempter. Many will fall for his vigorous and exhaustingly relentless story-telling.
Noticia publicada en www.guardian.co.uk