Badger sent me this article on Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s novel The Shadow of the Wind. I knew that it was a word of mouth bestseller in Spain and Germany, but apparently it is working its magic in England as well. I’m reading it right now and I like it a lot. Explaining why is a bit more difficult. It is not a heavy read, the writing is good but not great (I will blame the translation by default), and the main character is even a tiny bit hokey (I didn’t speak that way when I was twelve). The book is wonderful despite all this. The characters are all interesting and there are enough weird digressions and odd episodes to keep me interested. It manages to be atmospheric without assaulting you with place details.
I wouldn’t call it “literary”, at least not all the way. There are elements of mystery, romance, and even thriller. It is paced like a bestseller without seeming plastic or hodge-podge. The Borgesian conceit of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books is a nice touch, but the Borges parallels stop there (at least thus far). I’ll give the final verdict when I finish.
From the article:
Three years after it was first published in Spain it is still topping bestseller lists, and is the most popular piece of Spanish fiction ever published after the classics.
Kirsty Dunseath, editorial director of the British publisher Phoenix, snapped it up as soon as she read it in the original Spanish. She is convinced it has the same potential as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de BerniÃ¨res, which became a multimillion-pound hit on the strength of personal recommendations. “It’s what you hope for as an editor. It’s got everything; a really strong plot, it’s commercial, but it’s also literary. It has thriller elements and history thrown in. It defies genre,” she said.
Yet it had everything going against it, according to publishing lore. As Scott Pack, the buyer for Waterstone’s, explained: “It’s debut fiction and it’s in translation and it’s literary. Everyone is saying how difficult it is to sell literary books, and debut works and anything in translation. What more could you do to convince the great British public not to buy it? But it’s the best book I’ve read in years.”