Sometimes people will say that a book or a movie is their favorite book or movie ever. I have two little problems with that. First, there's no accounting for taste. For instance, my brother says his favorite flavor of ice cream is vanilla. But to me, that's like saying your favorite flavor of drink is water. Second, your favorite book or movie ever? Isn't that kind of restrictive? Do you know how many books and movies have been written or made? Have you read or seen them all? Do you know how many books and movies you may come across in the future? My lists of favorite books and movies are open-ended.
So when I kept reading reviews where people said "The Shadow of the Wind is my favorite book ever!", I was at first a little skeptical. I'd taken those kinds of recommendations in the past and been rather disappointed. I did a little research, though, and discovered that the book was being touted partly for its underlying theme of the importance and love of books. Well, as anyone who has read my review of The Rule of Four knows, I'm kind of a sucker for intellectual mysteries that involve books. So I decided to read The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.
It's not my favorite book. Ever. But it's pretty good.
Very basically (although I don't know why I bother avoiding spoilers, because it's been out quite a while), it's the story of a teenage boy named Daniel, who lives in Barcelona during the 1950s, and who discovers a book written by a mysterious author whose life Daniel's begins to parallel. As Daniel tries to find out more about the author, trouble ensues.
One favorable review I read said the book was "scary, erotic, touching, tragic and thrilling."
Scary - there were a couple of places where I felt a sort of frisson. But it wasn't terribly scary. And not terribly mysterious, either. I figured out right away two of the big mysteries of the book. Still, there was enough mild suspense that I finished the book fairly quickly, even though I was becoming increasingly frustrated with some of the characters because of the next element.
Erotic - hmm, well, yes, I guess you could call it that. I'm not a real fan of erotic writing and so I pretty much skimmed over those parts, all the while thinking that this book would make an excellent treatise for promiscuous people on the follies of fornication and the stupidity of a self-serving code of so-called honor by which some of the characters seemed intent on making a mess of their own and others' lives.
Touching - if only for the excellent, lovable, funny and compassionate character of Daniel's friend Fermín, then yes. But Daniel and his father and a few other characters have their moments, too.
Tragic - more like annoying (see the comment on stupidity above). I don't want to give too much away, but what happens to some of the characters is - whether it's their own fault or not - sad and sometimes horrible, but it's not really tragic. I think "tragic" has become inflated as a term applied to literature.
Thrilling - as far as "no accounting for taste" goes, parts of the book were a little too Gothic for me. The most thrilling thing I found in the book was the writing. I was thrilled that it was so well-written (and I must here say that I read it in translation, so some of my appreciation goes to the translator). I also enjoyed the descriptions of Barcelona, and they made me wish I knew that city better than I do, which is not at all. Incidentally, there's a website for the book where, if you click the link "los escenarios" at the top, you can see photos of Barcelona in the 1950s. Seeing them almost makes me want to read the book over again so I have a better picture of where things happened,.
The Shadow of the Wind was a good book, better than a lot of books I've read, but parts of the story seemed like a rehash of old plot lines that I've read dozens of times before. Of course, my brother has eaten vanilla ice cream dozens of times before and he still loves it. So I recommend the book, with reservations.
P.S. Subterranean Press, a small press that specializes in mystery and SF/F books, is putting out a signed limited edition of The Shadow of the Wind in the near future.
P.P.S. Several people also recommended to me Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett, saying it was their favorite book ever. I got about 200 pages into it and then had to stop. It was a stupid book. Or rather the characters were stupid, or rather one of the main characters was stupid. Not, it was just a stupid book. It's books like Pillars of the Earth that help make books like The Shadow of the Wind look so good.