Tag Archives: Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Michelangelo was wrong!!……….What I Thought Of The Prisoner Of Heaven By Carlos Ruiz Zafon

……….You were wrong Michelangelo. Wrong, wrong, wrong, when you said “The greatest danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark!”

“Expectation is the root of all heartache!”


Trust Shakespeare to hit the nail on the head! Sometimes, we are all our own worst enemies!

I ended up in a position of feeling slightly disappointed in “The Prisoner Of Heaven” and it was all my own fault – because it’s a really, really, good book! And therein lies the conundrum – how do you get yourself to a place where a book is really, really, good and you’re disappointed?!! There may be danger in setting expectations too low – but they need to be realistic and tempered – and my expectations of the new Ruiz Zafon weren’t!

The Prisoner Of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz ZafonThe Prisoner Of Heaven is the third book based in Barcelona around the Sempere and Sons bookshop and the Cemetery Of Forgotten Books. It follows the story of Daniel Sempere and his friend and colleague, Fermin, as they attempt to unravel the story behind a mysterious visitor to the bookshop, who buys a rare and expensive edition of “The Count Of Monte Cristo”, then leaves it as a gift for Fermin with an enigmatic note addressed to him. The book then explores Fermin’s past and the connections between him, Daniel and Daniel’s family and of course David Martin, who was at the centre of the last Zafon book, “The Angels Game!”.

Essentially the story ties together a number of strands which were left or which overlapped between The Angels Game and the earlier novel which introduced The Cemetery Of Forgotten Books, “Shadow Of The Wind”. From that perspective, while you could certainly read this as a stand alone, you get much more from it I think if you’ve read the other two books beforehand! The connection to those two novels and to The Count Of Monte Cristo is maintained throughout the narrative. As Daniel and Fermin unravel his past and the lives of the other characters who inhabited it, the connections between them become stronger both in terms of their relationship and in terms of their shared histories.

Like every other book of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s it’s wonderfully well written. The words really do flow easily off the page and into your mind – for the sheer physical pleasure you can get from the very act of reading, you’ll find few do that better than Zafon. I loved the act of reading this novel – it’s just one of those effortless and relaxing pleasures! The threads he draws between the books and between the characters are always on the right side of complex – you need to concentrate to follow the complex bits but they are not so labyrinthine that you need to take notes! As good as the characters are who inhabit the novel, none of them is more influential on the feel of the novel than Barcelona itself. Throughout the book you feel its presence under the cloak of a Meditteranean winter and under the shroud of a post-Franco Spain, awash with spies and security apparatchiks.

It’s a great story and the use of the ideas from The Count Of Monte Cristo fit really well. Knowing the stories of both Shadow and Angels Game meant I was constantly muttering ‘ah’ and ‘oh yes’ and ‘I get that’  as different snippets are revealed about those narratives and in particular about the characters of David Martin and Isabella. I know I enjoyed it because I couldn’t put it down – I read it in less than 24 hours. And yet when I reached the end I was slightly disappointed.

And that’s where those expectations took their toll. I’d picked it up with such anticipation and joy that I think I’d already decided it would be the best book I’d read this year because….well….it’s a Zafon! Alas it didn’t quite hit that height ( at the moment for me that accolade is still held by Laurent Binet’s brilliant work of genius HHhH!). Consequently it actually took me a couple of days to get over the disappointment and work out why I felt as I did!

Now with hindsight and perspective I can see that I set the book up for a fall – albeit unwittingly. I’d made an unfair and naive assumption that it would be right up there on a different level to pretty much anything else, just like his other two novels – not for a second did it occur to me that it might not be!

So in summary this is a great book, telling a great story about a fascinating place with a cast of mercurial and utterly engaging characters. Is it as good as the other two? Well, I don’t think it is, but it’s not far off. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. But read the other two first and you’ll come to know the wonderful world of Sempere and The Cemetery Of Lost Books – they’ll take you on a journey that you’ll never forget and that you won’t regret!

As for me I’ve learned a lesson about managing my expectations. As Jodi Picoult wrote in Nineteen Minutes “There are two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations”!

When the next Zafon comes out, and already I can’t wait(!!!),  I’ll try to be a man with an improved reality!

“Stop The Clocks, Cut Off The Telephone”………And Put Life On Hold, For At Last The New Carlos Ruiz Zafon Is In My Hands!!……….

……….My apologies for bastardising those moving lines of Auden, but they seemed to fit so perfectly with how I feel at the moment.

After years of waiting, the new Carlos Ruiz Zafon novel is in my possession and now I want everything to stop, for time to stand still and for the world to just allow me to read non-stop until I get to the end of the next journey through Barcelona and the Cemetry Of Forgotten Books!

There are only a handful of novelists who can generate this level of anticipation for me about their books being published, and perhaps the books of Carlos Ruiz Zafon are those I most anticipate – well it would be a toss up between him, Khaled Hosseini, Louis de Bernieres and Orhan Pamuk at any rate!

I first entered the magical world of Sempere and Sons bookshop, and the Cemetery Of Forgotten Books, when I read Shadow Of The Wind – by the time I got to it, it was I think being pushed through the Richard and Judy book club thing, as well as promoted high and handsome in every bookshop and supermarket in the land! I loved Shadow – loved, loved, loved, loved, LOVED it! One of my favourite books ever.

I then had to wait an excruciating 4 years for the next book, The Angels Game. I read it with joy, wonder, and tears streaming down my face in the sunshine of Crete after the publication timed perfectly with a family holiday! It was fantastic. Every bit as good as Shadow in my opinion!

Three years later, comes the third instalment! Although I’ve been able to sate my appetite a little with a couple of his books for young adults, The Midnight Palace and The Prince Of Mist (both of which I thoroughly enjoyed), it’s still been a long wait for the next adventure in the Cemetery Of Forgotten Books!

It’s a book that I simply couldn’t resist any longer. It came out a few weeks ago but I steeled myself and avoided getting a copy ordered until some other stuff I had on the go was all finished. Now it is (well it’s actually not all finished but I couldn’t wait any longer!!!!!!!!!!). My copy finally arrived in my hands today and now I want to stop the world, get off and spend my next 48 hours or so in Barcelona and in the company of Daniel Sempere!

So I’m off to do just that! See you whenever I resurface!

The Box Of (Might-Otherwise-Never-Have-Been-Discovered-By-Me) Blogging Delights!!

One of my favourite books as a child was John Masefield’s “The Box Of Delights”. If you don’t know it, the story is a children’s fantasy novel about a boy struggling to hold the power of a magic box which allows whoever owns it to be shrunk in size and experience the wonderful delights inside the box and to be able to visit the past.

I mention it because the internet and particularly blogging and social interaction media like Twitter, have become a ‘box of delights’ for me in the weeks since I discovered them. I know that there are many irritations, frustrations and concerns about the internet but through other people’s blogs and tweets I’ve already found out about so many books that I wouldn’t otherwise have read.

In the relatively short time I’ve been reading other people’s blogs about books and writing I’ve been amazed just how many people are out there with a love of books and reading and there’s no doubt some have already started to influence me and subtly alter my reading preferences (for example, through Book Snob’s blog I have rediscovered Robert Graves and am about to embark on Siegfried Sassoon’s diaries, through dovegreyreader’s blog I have discovered Adam Mar-Jones and thanks to Random Jottings, I’m about to take a deep breath and then dive tentatively into the world of Mapp and Lucia!!)

A twitterer (or is it tweeter – who cares?!) I follow is Savidge Reads, who has also just re-started his blog (though I’m new to it). Through that I picked up on a podcast called The Readers which I’ve started to listen to and because of that I found several other book and reading related podcasts that I’m starting to check out (last night I enjoyed listening to the World Book Club interview with Carlos Ruiz Zafon – great stuff!).

In addition to the podcasts, The Readers is planning a Summer Book Club and they’ve just released the titles. The format sounds like a combination of e-mail exchanges, Skype discussions and podcast interviews with each of the eight authors on the list. It sounds like a great idea and yet again has led me to books I wouldn’t otherwise have discovered. There are eight titles on the list.

Pure by Andrew Miller
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
Packing For Mars by Mary Roach
Now You See Me by S.J. Bolton
Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
Bleakly Hall by Elaine di Rollo
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

I’ve read two of them (Pure, which I finished yesterday and of which more later, and Half Blood Blues, which I read last weekend and which again more of later!). The other six have added further to my reading travels because I may not have come across them otherwise and they are now on order!

The Readers Summer Book Club confirmed yet again for me that discovering blogging (as I write that I am cringing because I can imagine anybody reading it thinking ‘How the hell can he only now be discovering blogging?!! Where has this man been?!!!!!!’ – Answer Dont really know!), and discovering Twitter (yes I know, same questions and same answer!) has been a real “Box Of Delights” for me and one I’m really, really, glad I opened!

Love At First Sight In A Greenock Library

“I claim there ain’t / Another Saint / As great as Valentine!” wrote Ogden Nash. These days I think Valentine might be less than keen on the rampant commercialism of this celebration and demonstration of love in his name – I saw cards yesterday inscribed “Happy Valentines Day to Our Son”!!! What’s that about?

I started my Valentines Day early this morning reading Seamus Heaney’s wonderful poetry in Human Chain and went back again to my favourite poem in the collection, Route 101, in which Heaney traces his journey through life in a series of moments laid over Virgil’s Aeneid and the move to the underworld. But it was the fantastic beginning which brought me to remember my first love – books!

Heaney’s poem begins with this scene of him buying a book as an adolescent “In a stained front-buttoned shopcoat / Sere brown piped with crimson / Out of the Classics bay into an aisle /  Smelling of dry rot and disinfectant / She emerges, absorbed in her coin count / Eyes front, right hand at work / In the slack marsupial vent / Of her change – pocket, thinking what to charge / For a used copy of Aeneid VI. / Dustbreath bestirred in the cubicle mouth / I inhaled as she slid my purchase / Into a deckle edged brown paper bag”. If anything captures the beauty and the preciousness in the hum-drum, everyday, ordinariness of buying a book, then this is it for me.

Book love began at first sight in Bawhirely Road library in Greenock where I grew up. In my memories it is the most beautiful, the most grand and the most imposing of buildings! In reality it’s not any of those things as you can see!!

But to my seven-year-old eyes it was a rite of passage becoming a member – but nothing on the exterior prepared me for falling instantly in love with row upon row of books, most spine out but some with that tantalising “come and try me” look as they were displayed front on. The counter was solid and smelt of varnish, but it had a crenellated section for kids – it was hewn I think rather than cut – a bit more heavy axe than refined jigsaw had created I’d guess! I’d linger and dally over choosing so long I’d frequently be “encouraged” to choose and get out with the words “If you don’t get a move on you’ll be sleeping here!”. And I’d have loved to! And years later I did finally sleep with books – I was the Headteacher of a school in Essex when the local library tried to promote books by running  a sleepover in the library – I immediately signed up and it was great – I still feel warmed by the memory of sliding into my sleeping bag surrounded by words!

And in the same way that I can reflect back over the years of being in love with my beautiful partner, I can also reflect on moments in my love affair with books, reading and stories. I remember the joy of getting a multiple book library ticket, staying up all night for the first time to finish “The Count of Monte Cristo”, being asked to leave a bookshop after collapsing into an uncontrollable fit of giggling on reading the blurb on the back of Spike Milligan’s “Adolf Hitler, My Part In His Downfall!”, discovering the world of Arthur and the Round Table emerging with my favourite hero of all time Sir Gawain, (even more than Eric Cantona and Guy Garvey from Elbow), waiting with endless plays of Genesis “Wind and Wuthering” in the background on my O Level /  GCSE results and yet being more worried about Prince Andrei and Natasha in War and Peace than the results, sitting as a hitch-hiking student by a flea-ridden hotel pool in Greece crying with laughter at the antics of Sancho Panza and Don Quixote and then 25 years later crying by the edge of a stunningly beautiful hotel pool in Greece at the end of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The Angel Game” (I’d come a long way in hotel quality but the story quality had been constant throughout!) and re-discovering the majestic Simon Armitage version of Gawain and The Green Knight! These and many more have filled so many minutes, hours and days for me over the years – but today I was grateful to Seamus Heaney for reminding me that my book journey began in that library 43 years ago!

If you’d like to share the moments that mark your book journey I’d love to hear what they are!