When The Shadow of the Wind came up as the next List read, I was excited to read something from this century. I’m fairly certain it’s the closest thing on there to contemporary fiction. Probably.
At first, I was really enamored with Zafón’s Romantic style. The plot is anchored in a love and appreciation of books, so you can see how this spoke to me on a personal level.
But then it took a turn. Here is how I described the book to a friend:
It’s a coming of age story about a boy who stumbles into and through other people’s lives and secrets, because he is incapable of minding his own damn business. Featuring incest, murder and romance.
I stand by that description, except I might revise the use of the word “stumbles” for a word with more intention…”bulldoze” has too much awareness to it…I need something that communicates slightly more purpose, but a complete lack of awareness or care…suggestions are welcome!
Anyways – here’s the problem: Zafón’s narrator, David, is a boy going through puberty. So, Zafón gave himself the challenge of writing in a Romantic (capital “R”), heavily stylized tone, delivered through the perspective and voice of a young boy navigating adolescence. This gave David’s narrative voice the appropriate level of angst and drama for a teenage boy – everything is the end of the world, all the time, and nobody understands him. Unfortunately, the combination of that voice with flowery diction and heavily stylized writing made the whole thing seem a bit disjointed to me. So many feelings and so many words. But maybe that was the point.
I think that’s what I would have written like, if I wrote a book when I was 13. So many feelings and trying so damn hard with my flowery language and using all the adjectives and metaphores – ALL OF THEM! So maybe Zafón does deserve props for nailing the voice of a pre-pubescent (and then pubescent) narrator.
However, David’s POV is markedly different from my 13-year-old self’s when it comes to sexuality and desire. Somebody needs to talk to this boy about priorities. I mean, I was a teenager once too but I had some ability to focus.
For example, if the woman you claim to love tells you that a man is stalking her and touching her without her consent, you might believe her and then feel anger, fear and concern, yes? Not if you’re David. He tells Clara she’s making it up and thinks that, if she is telling the truth, it’s really unfair that this mystery man gets to touch her and he doesn’t.
Example #2: If you snuck into the home of the woman you claim to love because you’re scared “a menacing man…with heaven knows what in mind” is doing something terrible to her, then you hear voices and sounds coming from her room, maybe call the cops, grab a weapon, or do literally anything other than stand in the hallway fantasizing about having sex with her.
Example #3: When an old, destitute, lonely woman agrees to help you pry into her life and past for the sake of appeasing your own misguided curiosity, maybe focus on what she’s telling you instead of the size of her breasts. Just a suggestion. Be at least respectful while you overstep the shit out of other people’s boundaries.
Moreover (wow, there’s a word I haven’t used in a long time) – Morever, the writing of the sex scenes and fantasies is, I do have to say, pretty awful. And there is a lot of it.
I started including examples in this post to show you just how awful it is, but there are too many. It became too much, was taking over this post, and turning in to a bit of a rant. I was seeing disturbing trends that I don’t know I fully picked up on before. But I don’t want to get into that right now because it’s making me angry. Sufficite to say the male gaze and sense of entitlement to women’s bodies are alive and well in this book.
David is infuriating. He moves through this plot with such an inflated sense of self-righteousness that he thinks the cost – death, pain, loss, murder – is worth it. Lives and people are destroyed in the service of his curiosity and feelings.
So anyways. Moving on.
With about 100 pages left in the book, the narrator switches from David to Nuria Monfort. The book gets better here, as the plot picks up speed, which is nice, but I’m not sure the narrative style/tone changed all that much, despite having switched to a completely different narrator. Maybe there’s a little bit less of the juvenile, angst-ridden self-righteousness, but overall the narrative voice is pretty consistent with the rest of the book.
According to Goodreads reviews, people out there love this book, so I’m sure my opinion is unpopular. As I said, this book did start out strong for me, and I was completely enamored with it. The way Zafón writes about books and literature through his characters is beautiful and gives expression to many of my own feelings.
But all of that got muddied by the rest of the novel and I just couldn’t get past it. Sorry to say, but Zafón lost me on this one.