I went into “The Shadow of the Wind” not knowing anything about the book. I was unaware of its run away success. I picked it up after seeing it highly rated and on a good reads list of books about books.
I am a sucker for “forbidden knowledge” and stories about books that contain said “forbidden knowledge” so I was all in for “The Shadow of the Wind”. It was squarely within my wheelhouse.
Essentially, the book purports to tell the story of Daniel as he seeks to discover what happened to the author Julian Carax whose books are exceedingly rare after being mysteriously destroyed. Destroyed by a character who may or may not be the devil.
The book started off really brightly. The prose is great. Doubly so since it is translated from Spanish. I’ve seen some other people write that they felt it slipped into purple prose at times but I never felt that was the case.
During the first half of the book the prose was even so good that I felt genuinely unsettled although this may have been aided by the fact I was reading in the dark (yes I’m a big scaredy-cat).
Unfortunately, the final two thirds of the novel drop off a cliff. Instead of having the main character pursue the mystery Zafon has side characters narrate long dull flashbacks that reveal everything. These flashbacks bring the novel to a screeching halt.
On top of this Zafon repeatedly tells instead of shows and delivers clunky character development. We are told that the main character Daniel doesn’t like Bea. He sees a gorgeous woman from behind (what a perv!) and it is of course Bea. Shock! He is instantly smitten.
The rest of the plot contains similar poor storytelling. For example, we are told that we are only seeing things from one point of view and maybe just maybe, a side character guesses, Julian Carax’s father was not an evil SOB. From then on the father is a saint and the narrative treats him as such.
The most egregious example is the villain who we are essentially just told is obsessed with Julian Carax and Penelope. However, when we are shown his childhood there isn’t any build up showing him develop said obsession. Essentially the novel suggests he kills people because his mother made him wear a sailor costume to a party and he saw Julian and Penelope kissing. This of course just underlines what a poor choice it was to have everything revealed by flashbacks.
After a bright start “The Shadow of the Wind” really goes downhill. Worse of all though the writer of the book came up with the idea of a book cemetery in Francos’ Spain and didn’t base the whole book about this!