30 Before 30: The Shadow of the Wind

1232The Shadow of the Wind

Reading like a prose ode to literature, Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind is a book lover’s dream. It’s been a few weeks since I read it, but one of the most potent passages from the first chapter is still very much embedded in my mind:

‘This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it…Every book you see here has been somebody’s best friend’.

Discovering a place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books would be akin to finding heaven on earth for me. If such a secret library actually existed, I might never leave. Except to venture out to the odd party. And to buy an eternal supply of tea and crisps.

For Daniel, the main character of the book, the discovery of this repository of obscure literature in the bowels of Barcelona and his subsequent ‘adoption’ of a long forgotten novel, The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, not only eases the pain of his mother’s death, but begins an obsession that will characterise his transition from boy to young man. When he discovers that a mysterious figure named Lain Coubert (which he later find out is the name of the devil in Carax’s books) has managed to destroy every copy of the novel apart from his own, Daniel starts to investigate the author, Julian Carax, and to piece together the enigmatic story of his life.

Though his detective work often lands him and his trusty sidekick, former Spanish Civil War torture victim Fermin Romero de Torres, in hot water, Daniel continues to attempt to unravel the mystery of Carax’s life- which, he soon discovers, is one that encompasses family tragedy, a doomed love affair, and layers of lies. Like a typical teenager, Daniel ignores the threats of Lain Coubert and a corrupt police officer in order to fulfil this self-imposed mission, ultimately facilitating his own journey to manhood.

Despite the convoluted plotline (which I’ve only really given a bare outline of), the basic idea that a book has the power to catalyse change and transform lives is one that all bookish types cannot fail to appreciate and understand. Other than this, what I really loved about the novel was the sense of community within it- how neighbours rallied round to support each other and stand up for those who were being persecuted in the years after the Civil War- and the use of some classic gothic tropes, such as the archetypal gothic building. Blending the gothic tradition with historical fiction, comedy, and a touch of romance, Zafon’s novel has a bit of everything to keep people enthralled until the end.

The fact that it is also beautifully written means that it is very hard to criticise the novel. If your concentration span is limited, you may find it difficult to follow in parts, but this is quite a minor flaw in my (very biased!) eyes. Ultimately, it made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me think. But, more than all that, it filled me with a sense of belonging; with a sense that I had found a writer who truly understood my reverence for the written word and the hallowed status that books have always had in my life.

There is no question about it: I will definitely be reading The Shadow of The Wind again. And, quite possibly, every other Zafon book I can find.

Read it if you can; it’s a literary gem.

Places For Book Lovers

Maintaining my blog has been a challenge in itself lately; there seem to have been so many things going on in my life recently, from juggling two jobs to going on various weekends away! There will always be time for books, however, so I’m continuing to plough through my 30 Before 30 Challenge. It’s progressing more slowly than I originally envisaged due to so many other commitments, but that’s just life unfortunately!

As it’s World Book Day on Thursday and I’m only halfway through my current book, I thought I’d take a break from discussing actual books to share some of the best places I think that a book lover can visit, both physically and virtually. Here’s my top five:

            Sites of Literary Interest

Wherever you live, there’s bound to be a place of literary interest within a reasonably commutable distance (unless you live in the middle of the Amazon rainforest!). In the UK there are hoardes of amazing places that have a literary connection. As a Yorkshire girl, my favourite literary pilgrimage destination has always been Haworth, the home of the Brontes. Non-drivers might find it a bit difficult to get to as it doesn’t have a train station (though there is a steam train that runs through it in the summer months), but I’m sure any true pilgrim would be more than willing to sit for hours on trains and buses to get there!

HaworthHaworth Parsonage

Besides infusing me with literary awe, my annual trip to the picturesque village of Haworth is lovely simply because it’s a gorgeous place to visit- a typically quaint English town of cobbled streets, cute tearooms, and quirky little shops situated in the midst of a dramatic rural landscape. I would definitely recommend it to any book lover, but if Haworth is a bit far for you to travel to, find a more local site of literary interest.

            Online Literary Gift Companies

Despite my constant assertion that I’m a technophobe and wish that I lived in the pre-digital age, I have to admit that, like most people, I rely on my computer for everything. One thing that I particularly love about the Internet is how you can spend hours researching things that you’re interested in and stumble across so many things you would never have found without it! Recently discovered websites that any book lover will adore include www.literarygiftcompany.com , www.bookishengland.co.uk and www.bookishly.co.uk. All contain wonderful literature-related gifts, such as jewellery, cards and prints that will make you think you’re in book heaven!

One day I intend to adorn my walls with book related prints, but as I currently have no wall space to decorate, I’ll have to do it virtually instead, using a print from Bookishly:

We are such stuff...

            Independent/Secondhand Bookshops

In a world of Amazon and Kindles, independent and secondhand bookshops are a dying breed. For me personally, part of the pleasure of the reading process lies in visiting quirky bookshops, hunting out musty old books, and revelling in the ‘bookish’ atmosphere. I appreciate that not all book lovers feel like this, and that some of my friends think I’m a bit odd when I start talking about the feel and smell of old books, but I do think it’s important to support independent second hand bookshops as much as we can, many of which provide an interesting alternative experience to the homogeneity of chain and online stores.

Of all the bookshops in all the towns in all the world (to misquote Casablanca), the most amazing one I’ve ever visited is Shakespeare and Company in Paris. I’m not going to lie- this is partly because of the name and the fact that it’s situated in Paris, my favourite city. Besides this, however, the shop has a piano, a typewriter, and a gorgeous quote on the wall, and apparently gives free lodging to aspiring writers in exchange for them working in the shop! If only I was more proficient in French…

Shakespeare & CoShakespeare & Co3

            Your Local Library

Like independent bookshops, libraries are also becoming increasingly redundant in the face of growing online book sales/downloads, yet they provide so much more than just books. As the venue for many adult workshops/educational activities for kids, libraries are a valuable part of the community- a place where anyone can go, regardless of class, age, ethnic origin, or employment status. By supporting your local library, you not only get to borrow books for free, but also show that you recognise the service that libraries offer as an important contribution to the local community.

            Theatre

We’ve all seen film adaptations of books, but how many people have actually seen a theatrical adaptation? Visiting the theatre to see a play/stage version of a piece of literature is one of my favourite things to do, and, despite what people might think, it isn’t solely the pursuit of the middle classes. Anyone can go to the theatre and enjoy it; you just need enthusiasm and an open mind! Whether you agree with someone’s artistic interpretation or not, seeing someone else’s imagination brought to life on stage is really interesting and often gives you a deeper insight into the book.

At the moment, I’m a massive fan of dance adaptations, particularly those by Northern Ballet, a UK based contemporary ballet company. If you enjoy dance/creative expression, I’m sure you’ll agree that their versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Great Gatsby are utterly spectacular!

Thanks for reading, and have a bookishly good World Book Day!