The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Luis Zafon

shadow-of-the-windReading this book reminded me that at least some of what makes a book wildly popular is totally random. Happenstance, luck, a bizarre confluence of events–whatever it is, it is definitely a mystery. The Shadow of the Wind has been popping up everywhere for a few years now, one of those books that people keep telling me to read. So I finally took the plunge.

I didn’t dislike it, exactly,  but I honestly can’t say I liked it that much, either. I kept reading because Zafon has a way of drawing you in, and at a certain point, I simply wanted to know what happened. The mystery element was gorgeously done, and I have to give Zafon credit for that, because even though I didn’t much care about any of the characters, I was still totally invested in solving the mystery. I was expecting some kind of deeply satisfying payoff. The ending was satisfying, I guess, but not especially groundbreaking. Overall, I found the whole thing incredibly long and often boring.

I think what bothered me most about the book was that I felt like I couldn’t understand any of the characters. I didn’t feel as I I knew them. Their motivations often felt simple and surface-level. The whole book is based on the complicated relationships between people but none of the relationships felt at all complicated, to me. It was all about the power of books, the complexities of love and anger and family, the whys underneath people’s actions–but emotionally, it felt flat. I hardly got a sense of any of the character’s emotions. This was especially true for the the main character, Daniel.

So much of the story, felt, to me, like reportage. Daniel recounted events. He delved into the mysteries of other people’s lives, but he remained, for so much of the novel ,an observer. This type of setup can certainly work, but it didn’t work for me in this case. I wonder if this has to do with the fact that, in many ways, this novel is a secondhand story. Daniel narrates the book, but the book is mostly about the mysterious author, Julian. Daniel is determined to discover the mystery of Julian’s life, but in doing so, his own life never comes alive on the page.

The whole time I was reading this book, I was curious, but unmoved. Despite the rich details of time and place, the atmosphere, the the twists and turns of the plot, the romance and intrigue and adventure–the whole book, to me, felt devoid of any real emotion.

There were also two plot points/revelations that felt, to me, completely extraneous, as if they were only there for the shock value. Neither one ended up having much bearing on the story at all, and yet both felt as if they should have been monumental, pivotal. Each time, these dramatic revelations drew me out of the story, despite playing such an unimportant role in the plot and the emotional lives of the characters. It felt, to me, like a cheap trick, rather than the deeply satisfying “aha” of solving a creative mystery.

I actually finished this book almost a month ago, and am just now writing the review based on notes I took right after reading it. At the time, I wrote that I didn’t regret reading it, but now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I can’t honestly say that this one did not feel worthwhile. It had its moments. But I don’t feel like I gained anything from it. It is, however, beloved by many, so clearly it just wasn’t the book for me.


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