Posted by: Corri van de Stege | March 26, 2010

The Angel’s Game – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I loved The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and so had to read The Angel’s Game.  I am only sorry that I downloaded it on my e-reader, rather than having a physical version of  the book in my hand and being able to underline, annotate and flick back and forth to my heart’s delight.  It is a wonderful story, what else could it be, this prequel to the Shadow.  We’re back in Barcelona, and there is again reference to the cemetry of books, as well as the Sempere and Sons Bookshop. 

The Angel’s game has been reviewed widely of course, it is less than a year ago it was published.  Reviewers agree that this is a Dickensian approach to Barcelona, with a poor David Martin (Pip) a writer who is set for troubles.  Not only does he resemble Pip, in fact David is beaten by his father when he finds out that he is reading books, and that a Dickens obtained from Sempere himself, wasting light and energy. 

The story is set out completely in almost every review written, so I’m not going to do that here:

Giles Tremlett in the Guardian ends by saying that ‘Many will fall for his [Zafon’s] vigorous and exhaustingly relentless story-telling.

Lionel Shriver in the Telegraph enjoys the book to start with but then, she thinks, Zafon loses his way ‘When the book ceases to be self-conscious about its own manipulations, it stops being fun….’ so that ‘… others will miss the drollery and sophistication with which the novel began…’

Stephanie Merritt in the Observer agrees that the second half is different, but does not agree with the conclusion: ‘… The Angel’s game draws with relish on all the conventions beloved of Wilkie Collins, Dickens and even the penny dreadfuls that David despises, then weaves them into something entirely original and surprisingly moving that holds the reader’s expectations until the final twist.’

I agree with Merritt: I could not put my e-reader down, had to know how it was all going to end, this pact with Lucifer.  I only wished it was a paperback version of the book that I could have referenced and gone back to, sometimes to double-check, sometimes to just savour some of the wonderful passages.  Zafon has a real gift for story telling, weaving the words and the passages into a gothic world that is nevertheless one that you want to savour and be part of.   The references to what happens in the publishing word and to the all-consuming activity of book writing are wonderful: whereas David’s penny novels written under an alias find the kind of fame of a trashy writer, his masterpiece, written under his own name is rejected and a book written on behalf of a friend finds great fame and publicity as a masterpiece. 

No wonder he makes a pact with the Lucifer-like publisher when the latter more or less forces the opportunity upon him.  But like Thomas Mann’s Dr Faustus, selling your soul to the devil does not spell a lot of happiness.

Yes, I may get a paperback copy after all, if only to reread some of the passages…  Needless to say, I enjoyed this book until the very end and am only sorry now that I’ve finished it.



  1. I just picked up The Shadow of the Wind at a used bookstore and am very excited to finally read it!

  2. Kathleen – hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Let me know.

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