Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I don't have a lot of time for reading this time of year since I'm overwhelmed with Festival-planning and several other projects next year but I have managed to read Carlos Ruiz Zafon's novel, The Prisoner of Heaven. Because I was in Barcelona last week for a work project, I started the novel the week before I left but have still only managed to get about halfway through it.

It's interesting. Set in the 1950s in Barcelona, the novel tells the story of a young man on the cusp of his adult life, newly married with a young child and working in his father's bookshop in the city. Due to a mysterious stranger he learns about the sacrifices made by a close family friend during WWII and the Spanish Civil War. The novel skips around in time which is an interesting aspect to the way the story is presented and the dry pages of history really come alive here.

Zafon's novels that I've read are engaging and very readable (translated from Spanish) but I also struggle with their lack of depth. Sure, there are historical secrets revealed and I love the setting which he so richly captures. But I don't really find the characters that alive or that realistic. They are too extreme: either all good and saintly or pure evil. As most of us know, that's just not how people are. I prefer characters that are more complex; I prefer more ambiguous, complex questions about morality and history.

Perhaps I'm being unfair since I've only read half the novel - and perhaps I will change my mind later - but this is what strikes me so far. I'm still enjoying it but I find these kinds of novels don't stay with me. In a few years, I'll be able to read it again and will remember very little about it. I contrast this, for example, with Elena Ferrante's main characters in her Neapolitan novels who are devilishly complex: sometimes you adore them; other times you detest them. They are not easy people to understand, their motivations are complicated and deep, like most humans are.

Still, it's a book worth reading and I can see why Zafon is such a broadly appealing writer.

No comments:

Post a Comment