With no other family to my name but the dark city of Barcelona, the newspaper became my shelter and my world until, when I was fourteen, my salary permitted me to rent that room in Dona Carmen's pension. I had barely lived there a week when the landlady came to my room and told me that a gentleman was asking for me. On the landing stood a man dressed in grey, with a grey expression and a grey voice, who asked me whether I was David Martin. When I nodded, he handed me a parcel wrapped in coarse brown paper then vanished down the stairs, the trace of his grey absence contaminating the world of poverty I had joined.
Once immersed in this dark tale, the action moves quickly. I will not reveal any plot details because the driving force of this book is plot. Again, Ruiz Zafon creates a world that lovers of books and writing will adore. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books again figures in this tale.
'Everything is a tale, Martin. What we believe, what we know, what we remember, even what we dream. Everything is a story, a narrative, a sequence of events with characters communicating an emotional content. We only accept as true what can be narrated. Don't tell me you're not tempted by the idea.'Juicy, huh?
'Are you not tempted to create a story for which men and women would live and die, for which they would be capable of killing and allowing themselves to be killed, of sacrificing and condemning themsleves, of handing over their soul? What greater challenge for your career than to create a story so powerful that it transcends fiction and becomes a revealed truth?'
I couldn't help thinking as I read, that Ruiz Zafon was writing this tale not merely "to order," that is, he had to accurrately match up to the plot he created before as well as not disappoint the expectations created by the sensation that was his first novel, but that he also was deliberately writing this story out of that experience. In other words, writing this book could be nothing but a burden to the act of creating a follow-up tale to a literary sensation, but one could take that onus and write about it and out of it, make it one's coded subject matter. In some ways, the assignment that the character David Martin receives in the excerpt above serves double duty. It is not only the fantastical subject matter of the novel, but it is Ruiz Zafon's own challenge - to write another book that is the be-all, end-all narrative. I think he is a smart artist to write from his all-but-impossible task of following his own great success with another greater success.
Ruiz Zafon writes an entertaining and romantic book-lovers tale that did not quite live up to the wild-fire expectation set by his previous book. However, I will say that after about page 200 I stopped even marking pages to look back at for this post and just read at break neck speed to find out what would happen next. The tale is suspenseful and even moving at times even if I felt some of the pressure the writer was under to dovetail neatly with his previous novel.