Sunday, October 14, 2012

Shadows and Rain

As I am currently living in Seattle, you cannot imagine my immense gratitude and relief when it finally started to rain two days ago.

The city has been clouded over with the distinct lack of clouds since school has started. The unnatural sunshine and prolonged summer temperatures have been keeping me awake at night in an unseasonably warm sweat. Each time I dropped another ice cube in my tea, another little part of my soul flaked off, like the dry skin that came with the unwelcome heat, the heat that kept me in tee shirts, instead of in my prized, oft-worn sweaters. The brightness blinded me to all books - school-related or otherwise - and I was suspended in time, just like my favorite season, who was still anxiously waiting for its leaves to change, and its carved pumpkins to appear on doorsteps. Now that the weather has finally caught up with the calendar, I am released from the stupor of the clashing seasons, and I can actually focus.

To a point. It may be argued that what emerged from the new-found morning fog was a misdirected focus; instead of an actual attentiveness to the tasks at hand (namely, managing to pay attention to Appreciation of Architecture lectures...), instead of applying myself to the textbook and keyboard, as I should have... I was desperate for more gloom. Suffering under this odd ailment - desiring the murky and cold, and despairing of all that was clear and warm - I turned to the book that mentioned both darkness and seasonal weather changes in its title (it's allure only magnified by the fact that Stephen King's quote was on the cover): The Shadow of the Wind: A Novel, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

Largely taking place in the heavily political post-war decade of 1945 to 1955 in Barcelona, Spain, the story follows the trial and travails of the love life of young Daniel Sempere, a teen trying to avoid the pitfalls of friendships and relationships, while keeping hidden the secret he has sworn to protect: a mysterious book, the Shadow of the Wind, of which only one manuscript exists. The rest - as well as the rest of the collective works of it's secretive author, Julian Carax - have been meticulously burned, by a man scarred by fire, operating under the name of one of Carax's villians, representative of the devil. What follows is a tangled web of many characters, their lies, and the timelines in which they operate, and the great question, of whether they can unravel the mystery before their time runs out.

I'm not entirely familiar with any European literature - especially recent literature - that doesn't come from England. I'm used to the Gothic, and the Romantic, and everything that has to do with the prude and privileged ladies of Austen and the Brontes. I was unprepared for this book - which was a bestseller in Spain and France, among other places, before being translated into English - and its... well... differing sensibilities. What I'm talking about are lines like these:

"You're a dish fit for a pope, Rocito. This egregious ass of yours is the Revelation According to Botticelli." 

You see what I mean? Not to say that this line didn't leave me laughing uproariously... it's just that the book displays an abundance of that sort of mindset. And if anyone has heard me complain about the Game of Thrones before, it's like this: I just have a minor problem with major intrigue being upstaged by the inability to keep certain things to yourself. But that's just my point of view.

The rest was great, though. Instead of existing on some limited scope and scale, it existed - to me - in some supernatural soap opera, populated with nefarious characters of dubious origins, liars and double crossers, those who looked like angels and those who acted like angels, those whose religious piety concealed a broken soul. The grandiose nature of the entire novel, the infinite supply of source material, was interesting, as most of what I've been reading recently seems kind of limiting in comparison. The strange, almost postmodernist view of the politics at the time, especially in reference to the corruption in government, which is a hefty topic in itself, took a backseat, when it came to the paranormal and the mystical. The result was a hodgepodge of the religious and the secular, the magical and the evil and the real. This novel contained a lot of varying elements, all moving and acting of their own accord, with their own connotations and purpose.

The problem is that the result of that grew a little too hectic. Towards the ending, I got the vague impression of sending sand through a sieve - throwing a million little particles your way a mile a minute - in the hopes that something is going to fill all the holes. Simply by reading it, I was finding suspense not only in the story itself, but as an outsider thinking, "come on, it's been a great one so far, don't let it all fly out of hand now...don't stuff the ending so full of surprises you'll blow your own story to bits." Thankfully, the acceleration finally stopped, and the story came together at the end. Unfortunately, in a double blow to my heart, it was a predictable outcome. So I had endured such stress at the hands of frenetic plot movement, then frustration through the stagnation as the exact same ending I had predicted came to fruition?

Believe it or not, the masterful imagery and inventive storytelling made it all worth it, and I'm not joking. Normally I'm a stickler about the "moral values" and "plot consistency and regularity" things, but this one was probably the exception. The length was pretty fantastic, too, as it was small enough for me to finish within the span of a week, and yet, it was long enough to let me get familiar with the texture of its binding and the font on its pages. A large-portioned meal, but a tasty one. Maybe I'm just feel so much gratitude for the man who mentally sent me to Barcelona for the past week, but it was a nicely worded vacation, and I appreciated the gloom.

Now, back to my rain. :)

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