You made me read it: The Shadow of the Wind

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind, translated by Lucia Graves (2001)

In my last Make me read it poll, there was a hot contest between The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie, but the gothic novel set in a darkly atmospheric Barcelona won out by a hair. I was curious to read a book that seemed to generate such strong and differing opinions. Some readers seem to find it absolutely stunning, others are distinctly “meh.” What would I think?

Well, I definitely fall more into the “meh” camp. There were strong elements that had me intrigued, especially at the beginning, with the premise of the “cemetery of forgotten books” and the eponymous novel that seizes the narrator’s imagination when he’s just 10 years old, and sets him off on a quest for the mysterious author. However, the resulting mystery just got more and more absurd and less involving as it went along. The characters acted with stupidity masquerading as passion, reducing one’s sympathy for them, and the over-the-top drama and menace just started to seem ludicrous rather than chilling.

The fictional author’s books were supposed to be incredibly amazing and yet sold hardly any copies. Aside from this information, and a few vague statements about their contents, we get hardly any sense of these supposed masterpieces. Zafón’s novel, on the other hand, sold zillions of copies yet left me shaking my head, wondering what was the mass appeal. I can think of many other books that would be worthier blockbusters, with more memorable characters, more vividly described settings, and more satisfying plots. However, in the world of blockbuster books some titles seem to take on a life of their own until everybody has to read them, like it or not.

I am glad I finally read this one, but I will pass on more by this author. I would love to read more Spanish literature, though, so if you have any other recommendations let me know.

Have you read The Shadow of the Wind? Which camp do you belong to?

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18 thoughts on “You made me read it: The Shadow of the Wind

  1. Sometimes it’s a mood thing or being in the stream of the zeitgeist or something that makes a book work. It was not there for me at this moment, however.

  2. That’s almost always my reaction to blockbuster novels. I often wish people who read exclusively from this genre would venture out and find the world of amazing stories that don’t get a lot of press.

    1. This one is also beloved by a lot of well-read people, so we must just have different tastes. It is a riddle why certain books catch on and others don’t.

  3. I’m in the “meh” camp, although I found things to admire about this one when I first read it, partly because an older lady I admired had given it to me, saying she thought I’d like it.
    Then I read The Name of the Wind, which is nothing like it except for the title!

  4. I definitely belong to the lovers of this novel and all its sequels. I have read all the books this author wrote. This is not my normal genre and I hadn’t heard of the book but came across it when on holiday and had the opportunity to buy English novels, it looked interesting, I bought it and was hooked. But, of course, we can’t all like the same books.

    The Shadow of the Wind.

    1. No, it would be awfully dull if we did. I am glad this was a great reading experience for many, even if it wasn’t for me.

  5. I read this pre-blogging and wanted to like it but felt I must’ve missed something, then tried the prequel The Angel’s Game (set in Barcelona before Catalan was officially adopted) and found, even though I gave it a more careful read, much the same fuzziness.

    Then, realising he set out as an author writing YA novels I read The Prince of Mists (my review here: https://wp.me/s2oNj1-mists) and discovered … more smoke and mirrors. I still have one more YA title of his waiting and then — I’m done. Interesting though that I had a fanboy on my comments berating me for my lukewarm critique — congrats if you avoid any of that ilk!

    1. I see that I read and commented on that review when you posted it. I did not think then that I would like Ruiz Zafon’s work, and I was right. Your disgruntled reader would no doubt be pleased to know that I was not put off reading his masterpiece by your unflattering assessment after all — but disgruntled all over again that I did not appreciate it as it deserves.

  6. Interesting that you had this reaction, it’s been so long since I read it, but I do clearly remember feeling a real sense of disappointment with the latter part of Shadow of the Wind and didn’t continue with the cycle. I was much happier with Ruiz Zafón’s collection of short stories I recently read.

    1. It did start off with some promise, but I felt let down by the end. Good to know you found some stories by him to enjoy.

  7. I’m a meh person too, but I liked this one better than the others, so skipping them is IMO a good choice. The later books were worse with the women characters. I think I liked the *beginning* of this one and that carried me through, but there wasn’t much else.

    1. If further books were even worse with women characters, I definitely do not want to read them. The women in this one did not come to life for me at all.

  8. I’m with you on this one, Lory, I absolutely hated it. It was like a South American soap opera for me, unending, contrived, and terribly boring. I went as far as to get rid of this book from my shelves (I was gifted a copy).

  9. I have read this book, and I recall nothing about it apart from that ‘meh’ feeling it left me with. Although I rated it three stars on Goodread, so perhaps I enjoyed it more at the time than I can recall now?? Haha, oh well. I also won’t be reading anything else by this author any time soon.

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