The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This book had mixed reactions from the group.

On the one hand, people struggled with finishing it, didn’t like many of the characters, and there seemed to be superfluous details and characters (why for example, is Clara’s role so drawn out, given her part in the narrative?), and a lot of repetition.

On the other hand, the overall idea/story was interesting. Once again, this was a book that most members of the group would not necessarily have picked up on their own, and so, it was a good experience to go outside reading comfort zones.

The discussion revolved in some detail around the parallels, most notably between Julian and Daniel – and it was considered fitting that the pen Daniel spends a lot of the book desiring ends up with Julia. There was relief expressed that Daniel was much luckier in his relationships: his father was a loving guardian, and Bea didn’t die a gruesome death like Penelope. *The latent symbolism in some of the names also intrigued members of the group, although it was agreed that they seemed to end up at a dead end.

* A related topic was the amount of violence and disturbing imagery in a novel originally billed as YA fiction such as: the room full of crosses, Penelope’s death scene, the torture scenes.

Some of the other themes that came up in discussion were

  • The title of the book itself. It was suggested that the wind is Julian’s story and the shadow is Daniel’s story, mirroring the parallels between the two. (The book seemed to attempt to suggest at one point that Daniel was Julian’s son, and that this was a son-following-father story.)
  • Adapting the book for film. The group was in emphatic agreement that red pens would be copiously used. It was thought interesting that the over-abundance of detail about the city of Barcelona made it somehow harder to ‘place’ the characters – the film adaptation would perhaps overcome that by choosing a few key visuals over entire pages of place markers that perhaps only make sense to a local.
  • The fact that the book switches between genres. The italic ‘story’ sections were considered the strongest, despite the fact that some details contained within them could not possibly have been known to the narrator; sometimes because the events narrated had not yet taken place when the narrative was written. Elements of the supernatural introduced by Julian becoming the Devil in the form of Lain: a fiction written by someone fictional. Fumero’s snapping turns the story from a historical/love story into a relatively straightforward revenge narrative. The group didn’t reach agreement on whether that strengthened or weakened the narrative.
  • Daniel’s ‘obsession’. Even though it was crucial for there to even be a story, the way Daniel proceeded became somewhat annoying.
  • The fact that the book was a translation. The group wondered whether some of the perceived weaknesses in the book were down to the quality of the translation rather than the original story-telling. The jury remained out on that.

Favourite moments:

  • Daniel returning for Fermin to take him back to his father and the bookshop.
  • Fermin’s many appearances and sayings
  • The description of the cemetery of forgotten books
  • Daniel’s (first overt) expression of love for his father
  • Nuria nursing Julian back to health

Most uncomfortable moments:

  • torture scenes
  • Fumero’s venom against everyone
  • Penelope’s isolation and subsequent hideous death
  • Scenes set in the asylum
  • Julian’s discovery of what happened to Penelope (alongside a sneaking relief he never discovers she was his sister)

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