The Angel’s Game read-along: Act One, Chapter 3 and 4

Of course Martín goes to the brothel. What seventeen year old boy would pass up such an invitation? The brothel is upstairs from a music hall and when Martín knocks on the door, it is opened by a woman who is clearly expecting him.

‘You must be Señor David Martín.’

Martín is very impressed to be called señor and he is led into the brothel. The woman who led him in goes off to get him a glass of champagne. Martín is the only customer in the brothel, and there are no women around except for the one who opened the door. This alone would have made me suspicious, as surely one would want to choose from a selection of girls when one gets there. (Not that I have any experience of going to a brothel, so what do I know?)

Then the woman delivers this beauty of a line:

‘If you’d care to sit down, sir. Chloé will be with you presently.’

If we remember from Chapter 2, Chloé is the femme fatale character Martín had created for his Mysteries of Barcelona series. Martín makes that connection as well and is of course a bit confused, but happily drinks his champagne.

He is finally let into a small room and is locked in. This does not seem to bother our horny protagonist at all. When his eyes adjust to the dark, he notices that the bedroom he is in is identical to the fictional bedroom he created for his character Chloé. And then he notices there is a woman in the room. Of course it is the fictional character Chloé. Martín describes her as follows:

She had the palest skin I had ever seen and her short hair was cut at right angles, framing her face. Her lips were the colour of fresh blood and her green eyes were surrounded by a halo of dark shadow.

Sounds familiar? Cristina had very pale skin too, sounds like Martín modelled his femme fatale after his childhood crush.

Martín continues to describe her:

Her slender, endless neck was circled by a scarlet velvet ribbon from which hung and upside down crucifix.

Does anyone else think Chloé resembles a giraffe from this description or is it just me?

Chloé and Martín proceed to have sex, no surprise there, and when Martín wakes up he finds Chloé gone and a business card from his mysterious admirer, Andreas Corelli, in his hand. When he leaves the brothel, there is no one around, and everything is completely silent.

Chapter 3 ends with

…I wondered whether the lips of Cristina Sagnier, the daughter of Vidal’s chauffeur, might taste the same.

Yep, Chloé was definitely inspired by Cristina.

In the next chapter, Martín cannot stop thinking about Chloé. He wants to meet her again. Of course that is not surprising, he is a horny teenager and she was his first time, but does he not find it at least a little bit weird that she was exactly like a fictional character he created, in a bedroom the same as in his stories? We don’t get any of his thoughts about that, so my guess is that he is still so in the thrall of this woman that he doesn’t think about anything else.

Eventually he makes his way back to El Ensueño only to find the place abandoned.

It was empty. The blanket of dust covering the floor shone like sand in the glimmer from the illuminated signs in the street. I walked on, leaving a trail of footsteps in the dust. No sign of the gramophone, of the armchairs or the pictures. The ceiling had burst open, revealing blackened beams. The paint hung from the walls in strips.

In other words, the place is in shambles. And this was only three days after his first visit, so very strange indeed. While Martín is trying to take it all in, he sees the silhouette of a man outlined in the doorway, but when he goes after the man, the man vanishes without a trace.

Martín leaves all confused and learns in a café that El Ensueño had been destroyed by a fire fifteen years ago. A perusal through the newspaper archives confirms this.

So, from my one year of studying Spanish in university I have learned that Spanish, and especially South American literature always has something of the mystique in it. You encounter lots of strange happenings and I am assuming that Carlos Ruiz Zafón has picked up these elements and used them in his book. That is fine, obviously there are strange things going on in this chapter and I accept that this is apparently a mystical story. What I don’t understand is why Martín just accepts what is happening. He is a bit confused about the fire, but doesn’t seem to be giving it too much thought. You’d think he’d be running around going “What is going on? I had sex with a fictional character I created in a building that burned out fifteen years ago, but which looked amazing three days ago, how can all this happen?” Is that because mystical things always happen in his world or is it because he is a not-so-observant seventeen year old boy? Or did Carlos Ruiz Zafón simply find it more convenient for Martín not to question anything too closely?

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The Angel’s Game read-along: Act One, Chapters 1 and 2

The book opens with this quote, which I think is a great one. I have not had the pleasure of having received any money for any of my stories, but I have had a story published in a small scale newspaper and I have to say it was a very sweet experience.

A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.

It is a good way to hook the reader in. The narrator, we learn soon enough, is David Martín, who is 17 at the time that the story opens. He is working at The Voice of Industry, an ailing newspaper and he is summoned into the office of the deputy editor, Don Basilio. Martín thinks he did something wrong, but no, Don Basilio offers him a chance to write a story for the back of the Sunday edition as the feature that was supposed to go there fell through. The reason for Don Basilio choosing him seems to be Pedro Vidal’s recommendation, but later on in the paragraph we learn that no one else was in the office to write something up and there were only six hours left before the newspaper was supposed to be set. So Martín gets the honour. Martín gets right to it and spends the six hours productively. He tells us:

I quarrelled with every word, every phrase and expression, every image and letter as if they were the last I was ever going to write. I wrote and rewrote every line as if my life depended on it, and then I rewrote it again.

He presents the fruits of his labour to Don Basilio, who is suitably impressed and even leaves his dreaded red pencil out of the equation. Martín’s piece is published and he receives ten pesos as reward for his labours. Not only that, but Don Basilio promotes him to the crime beat. Soon management catches wind of his stories and offers him the chance to write a weekly story as long as he also keeps his editing duties. So off Martín goes, creating The Mysteries of Barcelona about two criminals, Chloé and Baltasar, Chloé being a beautiful femme fatale who kills people by kissing them with a poisoned lipstick. The Mysteries prove to be a huge success with readers, so much so that Martín’s colleagues become jealous of him and bitter about his success. Martín is convinced his time at the newspaper is limited due to this jealousy. Next paragraph, we see our narrator in his room in the pensión he lives in. It is dreary accommodation and he and his fellow tenants while away the Sunday by watching a woman in the next door building having sex with her boyfriend. To Martín’s surprise, Pedro Vidal comes to visit him that day.

‘And there was light,’ he said, coming in without waiting for an invitation.

Methinks Vidal thinks quite highly of himself. As Martín and Vidal settle themselves into Martín’s room, we get to know a little about Vidal, who is the son of a very rich man. He doesn’t need to work, but likes to keep himself occupied, which is why he is working at the newspaper. He also writes books. Unlike his father, Vidal likes to play benefactor to the lesser offs, much to his father’s disappointment, who would have liked to see Vidal married with children. The reason for Vidal’s visit becomes clear soon enough: he is bringing an envelope which had arrived at the office for Martín that day (on a Sunday?). Although this seems like a very altruistic act, I have the feeling Vidal was just curious as to who would write to Martín and he brought the letter to Martín in the hopes to find out. He is not disappointed, Martín lets him read the letter, which is from a secret admirer with the initials A.C. requesting a meeting with him that night at El Ensueño. Martín learns from Vidal that El Ensueño is a brothel and he decides not to go to the meeting. Vidal teases him a bit about his lack of sexual experience, but this doesn’t seem to convince Martín. Martín then turns to the window to see Vidal’s driver Manuel standing outside. We then learn that Vidal offered Manuel the job of driver after Manual came out of prison and was unable to find work anywhere. Manuel and his family were given a house to live in and Manuel’s daughter Cristina was educated along with other Vidal children. Interestingly, Martín questions this story:

I didn’t know whether to believe this story or to attribute it to the long string of legends woven around the image of the benevolent aristocrat that Vidal cultivates.

I am inclined to think the latter, for some reason I don’t quite trust Vidal. And I am not saying this because I have already read the book, as I remember shockingly little of the story, but there is something a bit calculating and glib about Vidal. As Martín is gazing down at Manuel, he notices Cristina in the car, of whom he notes:

Sitting on the passenger seat was his daughter, Cristina, a creature of pale skin and well-defined lips who was a couple of years older than me and had taken my breath away ever since I saw her the first time Vidal invited me to visit Villa Helius.

Vidal notices him staring at Cristina and makes fun of him. He once again urges Martín to go to the brother that night and Martín seems less sure of his decision not to go. The second chapter ends with Martín smiling and waving at Cristina, but she only looks back blankly, not having recognised him. A nice start to the book, a bit of intrigue, an interesting friend and a writer as a narrator. I remember during my first reading of this book that I had very mixed feelings about Martín and this time it is no different. I find him slightly irritating, but I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe it will become clear in the following chapters.

The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón – Read-along

angelsgameI tend to read very fast. I am able to speed-read and sometimes when a book is really gripping, I tear through it at neck-breaking speed. This is of course detrimental to the enjoyment of a book, and sometimes it results in me finishing the book really confused. Probably because I speed-read over an essential part of the book.

This was the case with The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I loved the book and the moods and emotions it evoked, but when I got to the end of it, I was really confused. I didn’t know if I liked the book or hated it. I leaned more to the side of dislike, but I am suspicious that it is because I missed something essential.

So I have decided to reread the book. I am going to take it slow this time. In fact, I am going to read it a few chapters at a time and then I am going to blog a short recap of the chapters along with my thoughts about them. I invite you to read along with me and please jump in at the comments to let me know what you thought of the book as a whole or of the chapters I have discussed. Maybe together we can make some sense of it. And maybe by the end of the book all will be clear to me, who knows? I am going to try to post my recaps regularly. There are three parts to the book and 91 chapters in total, so hopefully by doing a few chapters a week we can cover the whole book in a bit over 6 months. It should be interesting.

I am planning to post the first read-along this weekend and then I will try my best to keep up the pace.

Christmas season

sunrise_winter_sunrise_skies‘Tis the holiday season! I can’t believe how fast this year has flown. The days just seem to merge into the nights. November came and went (and yes, I did win NaNoWriMo with 60,000 words) and now we are hurtling towards the end of the year. 2015 is almost upon us, unbelievable.

This year has been a whirlwind for me, especially because I have been studying so hard. I finished in the beginning of November, but then headed straight into NaNoWriMo, so it hasn’t been until December that I could take it easy. And of course a couple of weeks into December, I got sick. First the kids came down with the flu and then I caught it. So it is wonderful to have some time off over the Christmas holidays. Yesterday we spent Christmas with just the four of us, which was wonderful and relaxing. We don’t have much else planned for the time off, so I intend to catch up on blogging and writing my book, which hasn’t progressed much after the end of November. I intend to blog more, but then it seems I always have that intention and then it all goes right out the window. Maybe now with no studying clogging up my time I can actually focus on things I enjoy.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you all a great New Year, although I hope to pop in here before the end of this year.