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

Carlos Ruiz Zafón’sBook jacket for The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon The Angel’s Game is a mystery within a mystery within a mystery. No, that’s not a typographical error. I have been more careful in my second reading of the novel. Much of what I read the first time was forgotten. I don’t know if my memory failed because there are so many interweaving tales, or if I was overwhelmed the first time by the dark nature of the story. I can offer that the book is due a second reading by everyone who has read it once.

I did not find the tale evil this time; however, I would definitely label it gothic noir. The Angel’s Game is defined by its visuals as well as the hero’s challenging dilemmas, one in particular. When reading, I imagined how Orson Welles would light a film based on the book. Zafón leaves shadows everywhere. Every corner, alley, street, and room is dark and foreboding. Often a scene has only a single source of light (e.g., fire, streetlamp, moon, flashlight). Barcelona, often a menacing character itself, is aged and crumbling. City dwellers live within walls of majesty or in ruins; and every domicile, regardless of the fiscal standing of its residents, is filled with ghosts and secrets.

The hero, David Martìn, is faced with a multitude of uncertainties from the onset. Why did my mother leave? Where did she go? Where does my father go for days on end? What is he doing when he’s away? Why has Pedro Vidal befriended me? What must I do to be noticed by Cristina? How can I become the author I’ve always dreamt of being? Who is Andreas Correlli, and why has he taken an interest in me? The questions never stop for David, and twists of fate lurk around every corner, leaving the reader to wonder what events are causal, what events are matters of chance, and what events are predestined?

Ah, predestination – enter the enigmatic Andreas Correlli. One can’t help but think of Goethe’s tale of Faust when pondering the nature of Señor Correlli. Correlli conspires a deal with Martìn, but is it the proverbial “deal with the devil?” Some events in the story seem bound to happen when Correlli is involved, but even this interpretation is slippery. Friend, ghost, angel, fiend, or devil – how is Correlli to be judged by Martìn? What are readers to think of him?

The Angel’s Game is a cryptic maze. This is both criticism and praise. I find it fascinating to have so many questions, but at the same time, I like some resolution before more obscurity. I think the ambiguity of this story is what makes it so different from Zafón’s first novel in the series,* Shadow of the Wind. I’d also have to say that Shadow of the Wind lacks the sinister undertones of The Angel’s Game. I do appreciate that The Angel’s Game returns to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Barcelona’s Raval district and the Sempere & Sons bookshop. For those of us who love books, these two fictional places are corners of the world we’d like to imagine as real. Zafón would have been remiss if he had not also included novels with which we’re familiar as part of the tale. This is more red meat for bibliophiles!

I recommend that you read this book if you have read Shadow of the Wind. Readers of gothic lore and horror may enjoy reading the book too. The book will either challenge you or toward its last third, tire you. It’s possible to find the layers of mystery tedious.

*The books are not a series in the traditional sense. Any book can be read in any order. Zafón has linked the books together by including in each many of the same characters and places, including the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.