For part one of this review please click here
Trapped inside the angst of his existence, David attracts leech-like figures with no intentions other than that of exploiting him, and genuine admirers who love him deeply and try to give him whatever they believe he needs most. One of the admirers is seventeen-year-old Isabella Gispert, a would-be apprentice who is as devoted as she is headstrong and willful. Though Isabella does not appear as a character in The Shadow of the Wind, it eventually becomes clear it could not have been written without her. The ability to create realistic female characters is one of Zafón’s greatest strengths and in Isabella he gives us a young woman forced to grapple with a dilemma that challenged many women throughout the twentieth century; namely, whether to embrace their independence in pursuit of goals inspired by creative talents, or conform to societal expectations to marry and become supportive wives and mothers. The most anyone should ever expect of such an individual is a grudging compromise. Cristina is a different breed of woman who becomes the doomed love of David’s life. Torn between her loyalty towards Vidal, who was her father’s employer, and her love for David, she is unable to sustain either.
Of all the shifting benevolent and sinister characters in The Angel’s Game, none are more baffling than the mysterious Andreas Corelli, “a gentleman with black, shining eyes that seemed too big for his face,” and who inspires both hope and fear. Ostensibly, Corelli appears to be an eccentric publisher and philanthropist out to entice David to write a masterpiece of religious fiction called Lux Aeterna. But he is clearly much more than that. David’s first communication with him comes in the form of an invitation to accept “a little surprise” that turns out to be a sexual encounter with a ghost rather than an actual meeting with Corelli. Eventually the two do meet and enter into an agreement that changes, or possibly confirms, the course of David’s life.
The big question, however, is exactly who and what is Andreas Corelli? Is he the angel of the novel’s title who has come to liberate David from the soul-numbing agony of writing books he doesn’t believe in for the sake of earning money to stay alive? Or is he something closer to a demon intent on corrupting David’s talent for some malevolent purpose? Could it even be that he is neither of these but a manifestation of David’s own madness creating the kind of exalted literary intrigue and drama that he has not been allowed to publish as a would-be serious author? From David’s love for Christina to his obsession with the mystery surrounding the reported death of prominent Barcelona lawyer Don Diego Marlasca, all roads seem to twist and turn and lead back to Corelli.
It’s not always crystal clear exactly what Zafón is up to in The Angel’s Game. However, as with The Shadow of the Wind he provides significant clues in his references to such classic genres of fiction such as fables, melodramas, the aforementioned “penny dreadfuls,” the Christian Bible, mythology, and Grand Guignol. This last is a literary form that his editor warns him against because “it does to drama what syphilis does to your privates.” But David finds it irresistible: “secretly I caressed those forbidden words, Grand Guignol, and I told myself that every cause, however frivolous, needed a champion to defend its honour.” For those unfamiliar with Grand Guignol, the term is French and derived from eighteenth century puppet shows that later evolved into cabarets as well as an official theatre that dramatized brutal killings, suicides, and sexual attacks. This kind of theatre of the sensational is not without its place in The Angel’s Game.
In fact, we can see elements of it in action through the titles of David Martin’s most popular works: The Mysteries of Barcelona and City of the Damned. Above all, Zafón seems to have allowed himself the liberty of doing exactly what his character David Martin dreamed of doing: writing without externally imposed restraints or limitations. For a lesser skilled or experienced author, the result may have been nothing more than self-indulgence that pleased the author more than anybody else, but for someone as grounded in his respect for literary culture as Zafón, the end result is much more.
The Angel’s Game is in fact a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind. It is, like its predecessor, a major homage to books and at the same time a mesmerizing metaphysical mystery. Just how deeply passionate Zafón is about books and what they have contributed to civilization over the centuries may be summed up in this passage from the eulogy for the owner of the Sempere and Sons bookshop: “Seňor Sempere believed that God lives, to a smaller or greater extent, in books, and this is why he devoted his life to sharing them, to protecting them and making sure their pages, like our memories and our desires, are never lost. He believed, and he made me believe it too, that as long as there is one person left in the world who is capable of reading them and experiencing them, a small piece of God, or of life, will remain.”