The Prisoner of Heaven – Zafón takes us back to The Cemetery Of Forgotten Books

The Prisoner Of HeavenIt was a few years ago now that I was first pulled into the world of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s imagination with his internationally bestselling book, The Shadow Of The Wind. In this post-war Barcelona set book, we met such brilliant characters as Daniel Sempere, Fermin Romero de Torres, and every book nerd’s dream paradise in the form of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. After this Zafón released The Angel’s Game, set in Barcelona again but slightly earlier, and revolving around the writer David Martin.

In The Prisoner of Heaven, Zafón starts to connect the pieces of what, at first, seemed like two entirely different books. We return to about a year after the events of The Shadow of the Wind, and while Daniel is getting used to being a father and a husband, Fermin is preparing for his own wedding. However, there is a dark secret lurking in Fermin’s past, and he spends a good part of the novel telling Daniel of his experiences in prison (for espionage) following the civil war (which is alluded to briefly in the earlier books). Through all of this David Martin is brought back into the story, though I won’t explain how as I don’t want to give too much away. But I will say that if you read The Angel’s Game and at the end, like me, thought “what in the world just happened”, I’d recommend reading this novel as it clears some things up. By the end of the story, a lot of older storylines are at least explained, if not fully tied up, a villain is revealed who connects all the characters so far, and the ending makes it very clear there’s a fourth part coming (which Zafón himself has previously mentioned).

At under 300 pages this story is barely half the length of the first two books. But it is effective, and a lot of the imagery used is so strong it will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading – something I’ve always liked about the way Zafón writes his novels. However, he claims he wanted each of these stories to function as independent stories that happened to be connected to the others through various characters and settings, and I just don’t think that’s the case here – if you haven’t read the first two novels in this cycle (as he prefers to call it, instead of a series), you just won’t be able to appreciate this as much. What grabbed me about this was the attachment I already had to the characters – my fondness for Fermin made his story all the more moving, and my bewilderment by the oddity that is David Martin was only increased by the revelations in this book. I can’t help but feel that without these already existing feelings for the characters, this book would fall a little flat.

Ruiz Zafón photoAlthough this book struggles to stand alone as an independent story (especially with its somewhat cliffhanger ending), it does have a lot of positive points. The villain, a character named Valls, is a talentless aspiring writer who sadistically climbs the political ladder through his life, ever hungry for power and recognition of a talent and intellect he at least thinks he possesses. For much of the story, he is the director of the prison housing Fermin and David Martin, and when the novel returns to present tense more slowly is revealed of what became of him in the intervening decades. Through Valls, Zafón cleverly takes a swipe at Spanish literary circles, at history and at the politics of the time, but through his sometimes over dramatic story manages to keep it clearly fictional and not aimed at anybody in particular. Zafón’s descriptions of Barcelona, as well, are simply magic – even if you don’t like the story it is hard not to be magnetised by his use of language to paint such a vivid and dark image of this city. Lastly, inspiration is drawn from another classic work, The Count of Monte Cristo, which is referenced directly at numerous points throughout in a way that serves as both testament to the literary work and to Zafón’s writing and storytelling skills.

Overall this is a great book – not Zafón’s best, but still very good. If you enjoyed his other work I would definitely recommend this one to you, and if you haven’t read anything by this master of the gothic tale, I strongly recommend starting with The Shadow Of The Wind first and working your way towards this one. As for me, I can’t wait until the next part of this cycle comes along and I can find out what happens next!

Have you read this book, or any other books by Zafón? What are your thoughts on them? How do you compare them to other books of the genre?

The Booker Award and My Top 5 Books of all time

I still remember a long, long time ago (the 2nd of January, 2012) when I very first began this blog, and I was desperately wondering what direction the content would take. I very quickly realised that I wanted to make my blog about books and writing, and even though other things have found their way into my posts, such as music (in particular this month), but also random things I like (such as coffee and tea), I still feel overall that I write a books and writing blog, and that will indeed remain my focus for the foreseeable future.

So I must thank Literary Tiger for nominating me for the Booker Award, an award for blogs primarily about books (50% or more on books, reading and writing). One of the great things about book blogging is meeting so many other brilliant book bloggers out there, and Literary Tiger has a fantastic blog and a great taste in literature, and is without a doubt worth a visit if you have not yet managed to stumble across her posts.

As usual there’s some rules, but I quite like the third one:

1.  Nominate other blogs, as many as you want but 5-10 is always a good suggestion (but hey, I once nominated 32, so don’t take my advice necessarily).  Don’t forget to let your recipients know.

2.  Post the Booker Award picture.

3.  Share your top 5 books of all time.

And so, I give you…

MY TOP FIVE BOOKS OF ALL TIME (for the moment…because I mean, really, this sort of thing is bound to change as one travels through life and…OH this is still the heading. Right. Sorry):

1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – I’ve discussed this brilliantly absurd World War II based novel before, multiple times. This book made me howl with laughter, and was also the first book (in my memory at least) to make me cry. It moved me in a way a book hadn’t ever moved me before, and single-handedly re-inspired me to read more and, more importantly, to start writing fiction again. An amazing book, and one which will likely always claim the top spot in this list. If you haven’t read this, you absolutely must.

2. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières – Apparently the film adaptation of this is awful, which is a shame as I suspect that puts a lot of people off reading the book, when really it is magnificently written. Also set in World War II, it is the story of a Greek island community who has to deal with an Italian occupation during the war, and how one girl in the town falls in love with Captain Corelli, the musician captain of the Italians. It’s funny and heartbreaking all at the same time, and another book I am constantly lending out to friends.

3. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Series by Douglas Adams – Yeah yeah, it’s technically five books (and yes I know there’s a sixth, but I just can’t bring myself to read it when it wasn’t written by Douglas Adams). A downright silly and bizarre series of science fiction books, which at first may come across as being too silly for their own good, but upon further reading and reflection are actually taking subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) swipes at society. All in a universe in which Earth flickers between existing and not existing, depending on which book you’re at. This isn’t for everyone, but I recommend at least trying it.

4. The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón – This hypnotising gothic novel is set in post-civil war Barcelona, and based around a boy, Daniel Sempere, who is initiated into the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where upon initiation into this old forgotten library he has to choose a book to protect for life. When he falls in love with his book and tries to track down more books by the author, he finds out the author’s life is shrouded in mystery, and that a figure named after a character within the story has been burning all of the author’s books. The whole story within a story thing doesn’t always work, but this one is just spellbinding, as are all the books by this author.

5. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss – Okay, so this is another series, a fantasy trilogy of which the third book is yet to be released. But the first two books, The Name Of The Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, both blew me away, and are undoubtedly my favourite fantasy novels. The story of Kvothe, adventurer, arcanist, musician and so much more, and why he has disappeared into obscurity, is one of those stories that stays in your mind long after you have read it, and the novels steer away from the usual conventions of the fantasy genre, making for a much more exciting and less predictable read. If you’re a fantasy fan, read these books. If you’re not, read these books.

The Nominations:

Books & Bowel Movements

Poetry by the clueless

Storyteller In The Digital Age

Book Club Babe

Books Speak Volumes

Writer’s Block

Bitsnbooks

These are all great blogs about books and writing and various other related topics, so check them out. And as always, this is by no means a definitive list, and I have left some people out who I know have been just nominated recently for these awards. But for many other great blog suggestions, check out my other awards posts, as well.

What are your top 5 books of all time?