The Prisoner Of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

There are books that we read and enjoy, then there are book that we read and instantly fall in love with. Enchanted from the first page and forever unable to forget them. The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is one such book for me, so it was with extreme excitement that I began reading his new novel, The Prisoner Of Heaven.

The novel opens by rejoining Zafon’s cast of eccentric and unforgettable characters. Daniel Sempere has married the love of his life Bea and is now the father of his first son Julian. His father still runs his beloved bookshop, Sempere & Son. And Fermin, against the odds, is soon to marry his fiancé.

Life seems peaceful and contented, however this is a Carlos Ruiz Zafon novel and it’s not long before he is cranking up the pace and tension of the book. When Daniel receives a strange and ominous customer at the bookshop it’s clear that the troubles of the past have not being completely banished. The eerie and sardonic customer appears requesting to buy one of the most expensive books that Sempere & Son’s stock, Daniel is reluctant to sell to this unusual and unsettling man, however the stranger produces an irrefutable amount of money. After purchasing the book and scribbling a note in its front page, the stranger leaves, without taking his purchase. Inside is written:

For Fermin Romero De Torres, who returned from among the dead and who has the key to the future.

Daniel is torn, should he tell his good friend of this strange occurrence, or should he try to solve the mystery himself? Upon closer inspection Daniel realises that Fermin’s past is even  more dark and complex than he had ever imagined. From Fermin’s time imprisoned in Montjuic Castle, to his desperate attempts to restart his life. He has lived a turbulent and often tragic existence. But even more startlingly Daniel will come to realise just how intricately his own life links to Fermin’s; opening painful wounds that Daniel would rather forget and causing him to become fuelled by jealousy and the need for revenge.

From people who have read and loved Zafon’s work, to those new to his stories, readers of this book are bound to be hooked. From the magical opening to the climatic and dramatic ending, this story is intoxicating. Like a Russian Doll with many layers to discover, Zafon packs story upon story into one super story, the effect of which left me reeling with excitement.

But with all this undulated praise I have to say the book, for me, wasn’t without fault. Frustratingly the female characters of Zafon’s book seemed even more one-dimensional than in The Shadow Of The Wind. Zafon, a man of irrefutable imagination, seems incapable of presenting anymore than two types of women. There’s the good, virginal woman like Bea. And then there is the alluring, dangerous tempest who turns good men to bad acts.

I can’t deny that this element of the book didn’t annoy me, or baffle me for that matter. How could such an insightful writer lack such vision in this one area?

Maybe there is room for improvement though, I’m certain Zafon geared up this story for another follow-up book. I can’t tell you how much I hope this is the case, not only am I well and truly addicted to Zafon’s writing, he also left some tantalizing questions unanswered.

Interestingly this is now the third in a series of book, The Prisoner Of Heaven relates to The Shadow Of The Wind and The Angles Game. Zafon explains at the beginning of the book that all three books are connected, however do not need to be read in a particular order. I like this idea. First time readers of his need not be daunted by a trilogy of books but could start anywhere.

I’m yet to read The Angels Game but it’s top of my list. Has anyone else read it? And if so is it as good as his other stuff? Has anyone else read this book? Do you plan too? What is your favorite Zafon book so far? I’d love to know your thoughts.

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The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Very rarely does a book seem to encapsulate all of the ingredients needed for the perfect novel. Something always seems to be missing no matter how good the overall book is. A poor, harried ending, lack of strong characterisation. And yet The Shadow Of The Wind seems to be that rarest of oddities: The perfect novel.

The novel begins when ten old Daniel Sempere is taken, by his father, to a dark and mysterious place called The Cemetery Of Forgotten Books. Here he discovers a world where abandoned and neglected books find an eternal home in this obscure and magical place.

He is told that he may take just one book for his very own, but he must keep it with himself always. This book and him will always be bound together. Daniel chooses The Shadow Of The Wind by Julian Carax, a book he has never before heard of and one whose author is a complete mystery to him.

Nevertheless Daniel is full of excitement at owning this precious and unusual treasure, but almost immediately it leads him to receives unwanted attention from an ominous and terrifying man who strikingly resembles the villain in The Shadow Of The Wind. This disfigured and ominous man begins appearing outside of Daniels apartment, just like the villain from the novel. He tries in vain to persuade Daniel to hand over his book which the stranger confesses he desperately wants to burn, like he wants to do with all of Carax’s book.

As the pressure mounts Daniel decides to find out for himself the true history of the book and the reason why this man would be so desperately pursuing him. Soon Daniel realises that the novels writer Carax has a dark and mysterious past, his death is one large question mark and the deeper Daniel digs the more he realises how inexplicably his life was linked with that of a beautiful lady whose whereabouts is again ambiguous and unknown. The further he digs the more it becomes apparent that there are unresolved events looming in the past, now threatening to leak into the present, but even more alarmingly it would seem a perfect paradox is appearing between Daniels life and  that of Julian’s.

Zafron takes his slow and delectable time in peeling away the many layers of mystery in this story but if the truth is a long time waiting the novel never suffers. Peppered with humour, romance and great and beautiful friendships the book is an intricately woven masterpiece. A true story.

Book Groups Reaction…

It was a record-breaking book group moment when we met to discuss the book: for once we all loved it. From the plot to the characters to the ending and to the story on a whole, our reaction was unanimously positive. In fact being the ever critical bunch that we are we tried to find a fault but really struggled.

Everyone agreed that the book had an echo of Dickens about it. Something about this perfectly formed picture blew us all away. Most writers seems to excel in certain area’s but fail subsequently in others but Zafron is consistent.

If I had to be critical and I really hate to when a book is so good, I would say the ending seemed a little clichéd, perhaps not quite in keeping with the rest of the story. That said he didn’t cave into that most cardinal of sins that so many writers commit; writing a rushed and harried ending. To the end he took his time.

Myself and Manchester’s Artistic Son found the characterization of women particularly interesting, is it just us or are all the women portrayed as sexual objects? Created to steal the glance of any man in their path? Not that we believe the author to be sexist, I think it’s fair to say we both agreed that this was a clever literary move in order to represent how women were perhaps viewed in that time.

Holly and Sammy Dee disagreed slightly, not seeing such a contrived message in the book. But this discussion only lead us to ponder how on one level the book is quite simply an extraordinary story, but on the other a very thought-provoking novel which leaves you with much to ponder.

What does everyone else think of this book? Did you love it as much as we all did? I’d love to hear your thoughts.