Set against a gothic 1920’s Barcelona, Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Angel’s Game is the story of David Martin, a story that begins in rags and turns to darkness cloaked in the promise of riches. Not long after he gets his first break as an aspiring writer, young David ends up losing the first and only job he has ever had. Knowing his art is being compromised but without alternative, David signs on with editors/publishers Barrido & Escobillas who shamelessly take advantage of him. Meanwhile, a mysterious French editor named Andreas Corelli relentlessly pursues him to write a book that will “create a new religion.”
David’s goals are further complicated by a moral debt to his benefactor Pedro Vidal, the fact that he’s fallen in love with a young woman in Vidal’s charge, and the mystery behind the tower house he rents which becomes oddly familiar as it unfolds. Ultimately, despite nagging doubt and strange coincidences, David reassigns his publishing allegiance to Corelli only to find himself on the dark side of ambition. He must then decide how much of his life – and his soul – he’s willing to surrender in pursuit of his literary dreams. What does one sacrifice in the name of success? Or love? Or the ability to live in peace with one’s self?
In a recent appearance in Wayzata, MN, hosted by The Bookcase, Zafón admitted he’s not necessarily proud of everything he’s ever written, but armed with the commercial success of his previous working lives (musician, copywriter, advertising creative director), not to mention four young adult novels and the critically acclaimed The Shadow of the Wind, Zafón is free to write his way. He calls it “newly fashioned old-fashioned good storytelling,” which I find accurate but inadequate. He tells David’s story masterfully and with literary talent so rare, readers will find themselves permanently adhered to it. Emotional attachment is not negotiable; neither is intellectual investment. It’s not just about ‘Success v. The Soul’ but rather the way Zafón presents the debate.
Admittedly, Zafón has enjoyed a personal, passionate affair with literature throughout his life. His UK website lists literary greats Dickens, Dos Passos, Faulkner, Bronte, Balzac, Hugo and others as “Dead fellows you should see and read frequently.” His first young adult novel El príncipe de la niebla, published 16 years ago, won the Edebé Literary Prize for young adult fiction and will [finally] be published in the United States as The Prince of Mist next year. But perhaps even more telling are these words from The Shadow of the Wind:
“Once, in my father’s bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return.”
Clearly Zafón knows of what he writes and writes of what he knows. Much like The Shadow of the Wind was a love letter to books, The Angel’s Game is an homage to the art of writing – not just writing in terms of commercial success or even in abstraction – but the art of writing; its beauty, its pain. This art – his art, his way – leaps from the pages of The Angel’s Game and dares you to jump in. I recommend that you do.
The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Published by: Doubleday Books
June 26, 2009