Monday, August 10, 2009

Best-sellers I'm Not Sold on

I've almost forgotten to mention that I recently read Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Luis Zafon after reading several enthusiastic references. I ordered it thinking it would be the perfect summer escape reading -- something like Elizabeth Kostova's wonderful The Historian of several years back. By the time of my daughter and granddaughter's visit two weeks ago, I was halfway through Zafon's book, but I admit that it seemed to take forever to finish, and my reading was beginning to feel like a duty. I had very little compulsion to find out what would happen -- the mystery was too overwrought for me to care very much. Even more, I felt no connection to the protagonist who scarcely seemed credible in his precocity at twelve and barely seemed to change as he moved through his teens and early twenties. Only one other character caught my interest for long, and that wasn't enough compensation.

A further disappointment is that the book left me with no real sense of Barcelona. Comparing it, for example, to Pascal Mercier's Night Train to Lisbon (similar in its bibliocentric mystery and connection to Portugal's dark military and political history), Robert Wilson's A Small Death in Lisbon, or Richard Zimler's The Last Kabbalist in Lisbon, I couldn't help find Zafon's novel wanting.

That said, the book is well written, and there was something there that kept me going 'til the end (as was the case for my daughter who commented, when she saw me reading it, that she'd just finished it, but wouldn't recommend it particularly). At least, it didn't irritate me the way that The Da Vinci Code did -- that book I couldn't get beyond the first chapter despite the number of people who found it a gripping page-turner. So take my criticism of Shadow with a grain of salt. As with Da Vinci, many, many people have kept this historical mystery on bestseller lists for months. Feel free to ignore my dissenting opinion.


  1. Okay, I have a different book by Zafón on my reading list: The Angel's Game. I wonder if it is the nature of the writer or just that book. Perhaps I will make that book my next request from the library to see what I think.

    It is interesting about perceptions of books. I did manage to read The Da Vinci Code mostly driven by a combination of fascination and disgust about how the author co-opted a lot of known ideas and turned them into something completely different. My spouse however could not get through it. I suppose I have a high tolerance for trash. Of course I was also reading it on the exercise bicycle, which raises my tolerance as well.

    On the non-mystsery front though I could not get through Wicked despite great raves and recommendations by many people, including some who have very low tolerance for bad writing and popular fiction. Who knows?

  2. Oh goodness, by the time I'd read the first page of Da Vinci Code I was swearing at the ghastly writing. I did finish it because I was determined to be able to tell people why I hated it ... And why they should read much, much better books in the same vein (Foucault's Pendulum anyone?). Of course, I convinced no one, and Dan Brown has made a fortune. It's still TRASH!

  3. Mardel: I'd love to know what you think about The Angel's Game. It's one I had thought of reading but will now pass on (unless you tell me that's a mistake)
    I'm generally pretty tolerant of trash altho' I don't bother with it much -- I tried several times with the Dan Brown book and was actually surprised how much it irritated me.
    Wicked hasn't tempted me at all and now it never will -- I trust your response!

    Tiffany: you and I and the coincidences -- Just yesterday I came across a reference to Foucault's Pendulum, not Eco's novel but the actual pendulum housed in the Panthéon in Paris. And yes, I found Brown's writing THAT irritating -- I'm impressed you persevered and sadly, not surprised other readers didn't listen. One of my reading groups actually scheduled a meeting 'round it -- I passed on that one and left the group not too long after . . .

  4. Well, I've put in a request for the book. I am always a little nervous when there is a long wait list for a book at my local library, as arrogant and pompous as that sounds. There are exceptions.

    Interesting about the reading group. I was asked to join a group, and Da Vinci Code was the book they were reading at the time. Needless to say the book was an adequate predictor of the quality of the group and I did not join, even though I got through the book. I don't think any of the club members would get through Eco.

    I wonder if the endorphins from riding the exercise bicycle somehow aid in the suspension of disbelief?

  5. Mardel: Either the endorphins make the book better or the book seems better because it distracts from the exercise pain ;-)

  6. Okay, I picked up the Zafon, the Angel's Game. I gave up on it half way through. When I had to force myself to pick it up, when I would rather do almost any grungy back-breaking labor before reading that book, I knew it was time to call it quits. Not recommended.

  7. Glad to know this, Mardel, and thanks for remembering to get back to me. It's one thing to struggle through a book that's challenging but with obvious merit. To struggle through something that should be light/entertaining reading is just not worth it!
    But I don't understand where all the superlatives are coming from, surrounding these two Zafon novels .. .