The Angel’s Game read-along: Act One, Chapters 17 and 18

Nine weeks later Martín and Vidal’s books have finally been published. Martín is of course excited to see his name on the face of a book, so he goes to the nearest bookshop. To his disappointment, the only new book he sees is Vidal’s, prominently displayed. He asks for his own book, but the bookseller says they don’t have it, as they didn’t get any books from the publisher.

Martin goes to a café and reads the reviews in the newspaper. The ones for Vidal are outright glowing.

The House of Ashes is a mature, rich work of great quality which takes its place among the best examples of contemporary literature.’

The reviews for his own book, on the other hand, are dismal.

‘A first novel, written in a pedestrian style, The Steps of Heaven, by the novice David Martín, shows the author’s lack of skill and talent from the very first page.’

That is quite harsh for Martín, especially since he wrote both books and one might assume that his writing style would have been the same for both books. Although the book he wrote for Vidal was an epic book and his own was a lot darker, he is still the same writer. One gets the feeling that the reviewers for Vidal’s book just wanted to suck up to him.

However, another explanation presents itself. Five bookshops Martín goes to say that they never received the book, so maybe the reviewers didn’t either. It is not unheard of for reviewers to just make up reviews without reading the book. Martín storms over to his publisher’s offices to demand that the books are sent out. Of course both men try to weasel their way out of the situation by offering endless useless excuses and Martín is – rightfully – livid. Apparently the only bookshop which has received the books is Sempere and Sons who collected the books in person.

Barrido and Escobillas, Martín’s publishers, tell him he is better off going back to writing City of the Damned again, also considering he still has a contract.

Martín just walks out with one line.

‘You can go screw yourselves.’

How about no

Martín walks past the bookshop of Sempere and is pulled inside by Sempere himself.

‘I’ve been glancing through Vidal’s book,’ he said.
‘The season’s success story,’ I pointed out.
‘Does he know you’ve written it?’
‘What does it matter?’ I said, shrugging my shoulders.

How does Sempere know that Martín has written Vidal’s book? I presume he read Martín’s book and it is possible that he picked up on the similarities in style, but he couldn’t know for sure. And Martín had not told anyone what he and Cristina had been doing. Also, why is Martín not surprised that Sempere has figured it out?

Sempere asks Martín to sign his book for him and he then places it in a special case of first editions. Martín is honoured and goes home feeling a bit better.

The next day the publishers come by with their lawyer, trying to force Martín to write more instalments of City of the Damned. They even offer – ever so generously – that Martín can buy the remaining unsold copies of The Steps of Heaven for 75 per cent of the cover price. Martín kicks them out of his house.

Before I slammed the door in their faces, Escobillos was good enough to cast me one of his evil-eyed looks.
‘We demand a reply within a week, or that will be the end of you,’ he muttered.
‘In a week you and that idiot partner of yours will be dead,’ I replied calmly, without quite knowing why I’d uttered those words.

Dun dun dun… I have a feeling that this is not going to turn out well.

Vidal also comes to pay his respects to his friend, saying how sorry he is for the bad reviews of Martín’s book. Martín tells Vidal to enjoy his own success.

‘Do you think this means anything to me? The flattery of a few poor devils? My greatest joy would have been to see you succeed.’

Right. Vidal is so disingenuous I am surprised Martín doesn’t kick him out of his life. Martín wrote the book that Vidal so desperately wanted to write, not so he could be proud of having written a book, but because he wanted to be famous. If he really didn’t care about “flattery”, then he would have cared more about his book and he would have noticed the tampering.

But Vidal is not done. He lectures Martín on not being part of the club and playing the game.

‘You lock yourself up in that great rambling house and you think you can survive without joining the church choir and putting on the uniform. Well you’re wrong, David. You’ve always been wrong.’

It would be nice if at least one character in the book could be consistent. Vidal pretends to care about Martín, but really he seems completely fed up with him. Is it because he has helped Martín so much and now he wants to see the fruits of his labour? Does he want Martín to succeed so he can boast and say it was all because Vidal took him under his wing? But why the lecture about joining the choir? When Martín asks if Vidal joined the parish (we have since moved from the choir to the parish in the conversation), Vidal replies,

‘I don’t have to, David. I feed them.’

Okay then.

Vidal then continues by telling Martín he has two things to tell Martín which he is not going to like. The first one concerns Martín’s father. Vidal tells Martín that his father’s death was a mistake.

‘The person they wanted to kill was me,’ said Vidal almost inaudibly. ‘An old partner of my father’s discovered that his wife and I…’
I closed my eyes and listened to a morbid laughter rising up inside me. My father had been riddled with bullets because one of the great Pedro Vidal’s bits of skirt.

Wow, that is harsh. So this is the real reason that Vidal has been looking after Martín, he felt responsible for the death of his father and therefore responsible for Martín’s well-being. Not so charitable after all, but we already knew that, didn’t we?

There is another bad thing, and it’s even worse than the first.

‘What is the second thing you were going to tell me?’
I’d never seen Vidal look so frightened. It suited him.

brace yourself

‘I’ve asked Cristina to marry me.’
A long silence.
‘She said yes.’

May I just point out that Vidal is almost thirty years older than Martín and Martín and Cristina are only two years apart? Meaning that Vidal is at least twenty five years older than Cristina. That is just wrong. Not that there is anything wrong with an age gap like that, but Cristina has grown up in the Vidal household, she has always been dependent on Vidal, and he waited for her father to die and took his chance. It’s not like Cristina could have refused him, as she would have been out on the streets then.

Of course Martín is cut up about it and he leaves Vidal at the restaurant. He wanders around and then ends up at the shop where his mother works. He waits until it is closing time, then asks a boy on the street to give his mother a package when she comes out. The package contains his book. Eventually his mother comes out of the shop, the boy gives her the package and leaves. Mom opens the package, examines the book, then starts walking. Martín follows her until he sees her dump his book in a trash can.

So not a good day for Martín, one would almost feel sorry for him. Just kidding, I actually do feel sorry for him. His whole world has been turned upside down with Vidal’s confessions and to top it up his mother rejected his work. She must have recognised the name and realised the book was written by her son, right? With two parents as messed up as that, it’s no surprised Martín himself is messed up.



The Angel’s Game read-along: Act One, Chapter 16

On the day that Martín is finished his and Vidal’s books he finds out that Manuel has died and Cristina is due back in Barcelona. Pep, Vidal’s new driver, comes to tell Martín the sad news. He is sent by Vidal to pick up Cristina, but Martín convinces him that Pep is not the right person to pick up Cristina from the train station. Instead, Martín will pick her up.

Cristina does not want to go to Villa Helius that night and Martín offers to find her a hotel, but she does not want to be alone either. So Martín brings her home to his house.

‘If there’s one thing I have, it’s too many bedrooms.’

At least he isn’t thinking of sleeping with her – or at least he keeps up appearances.

They go home and Martín installs Cristina in one of the bedrooms, leaving her to change and get comfortable. She eventually emerges from the bedroom and joins him in the living room.

She sat in one of the arm chairs and glanced round the room, stopping to look at a pile of paper on the table. She looked at me and I nodded.
‘I finished it a few days ago,’ I said.
‘And yours?’
I thought of both manuscripts as mine, but I just nodded again.

He is right to think of both manuscripts as his, considering he completely rewrote Vidal’s book.

Cristina tells Martín that she missed him.

‘I didn’t want to, but I have.’
‘Me too.’
‘Some days before going to the sanatorium, I’d walk to the station and sit on the platform to wait for the train coming from Barcelona, hoping you might be on it.’
I swallowed hard.
‘I thought you didn’t want to see me,’ I said.
‘That’s what I thought too.’

Cristina talks about her father for a little bit, explaining that he started forgetting more and more.

‘Over time, loneliness gets inside you and doesn’t go away.’

Is that why she started missing Martín? Because she was desperately lonely and he was really the only friend she had? It isn’t expressed here, but I find it interesting that she says she didn’t want Martín, but that she did anyhow because she was so lonely.

Cristina brings out her father’s photo album and they start looking through the photos, Martín a little reluctantly. Then Martín stumbles upon a photo he can’t quite place.

It was a picture of a girl of about eight or nine, walking along a small wooden jetty that stretched out into a sheet of luminous see. She was holding the hand of an adult, a man dressed in a white suit, who was partly cut off by the frame. At the end of the jetty you could make out a small sailing boat and an endless horizon on which the sun was setting. The girl, who was standing with her back to the camera, was Cristina.

Cristina remarks that this is her favourite photo, even though she has no recollection of the picture being taken.

They then see a picture of Cristina when she was fourteen and we get this strange exchange:

‘Look, this is me when I was fourteen.’
‘I know.’
Cristina looked at me sadly.
‘I didn’t realise, did I?’
I shrugged my shoulders.
‘You’ll never be able to forgive me.’
I preferred to go on turning the pages than to look into her eyes.
‘There is nothing to forgive.’
‘Look at me, David.’
I closed the album and did as she asked.
‘It’s a lie,’ she said. ‘I did realise. I realised every day, but I thought I had no right.’
‘Because our lives don’t belong to us. Not mine, not my father’s, not yours…’
‘Everything belongs to Vidal,’ I said bitterly.

So, a few things here. First of all, it is not made clear what it was that Cristina does not realise. It is one thing not to want to spell everything out for the reader, but it also isn’t good when the reader starts flipping back to the front of the book to see if she has missed something. I was confused as to what it was that Cristina was supposed to have realised and it wasn’t until I read the whole exchange between them that I understood.

Second, I guess that when Martín was saying that Cristina didn’t want to be with Martín it was because of their debt to Vidal, he was right. But I don’t quite understand it. Vidal gave Manuel the job as driver, because Manuel had saved his life. Vidal also had ulterior motives for taking care of Martín, although Martín does not know it at the time. I don’t get why Cristina and Martín see Vidal as some sort of god-like saviour who owns them. Why wouldn’t they be allowed to have their own lives, Vidal has never really said or done anything to indicate that he wants them to obey his every demand, although I concede that we don’t know what goes on between Cristina and Vidal. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I don’t buy into the whole ‘we can’t be together because Vidal has been good to us in our lives’. It feels a bit too contrived a reason to keep them apart.

But that night, Cristina decides she wants to sleep with Martín and so they have sex and the next morning Cristina is gone. Before they have sex, Martín comments that he knows he is going to lose Cristina as soon as the night is over, but he still goes ahead and has sex with her. Even though she is clearly vulnerable and wracked with grief, Martín only thinks of what he wants. The explanation we are offered is that Cristina wanted him all along, but was bound by her duty to Vidal, but that is not what we have seen so far. Cristina has never shown any real interest in Martín, let alone love, so this feels more like an explanation thrown in by the author to create some tension.

I guess I just don’t buy Cristina and Martín as star-crossed lovers (can you tell?).

The Angel’s Game read-along: Act One, Chapter 14 and 15

Martín finally goes to the doctor to get his headaches checked out. After only a few days of tests, the doctor informs Martín that he has a brain tumour. I guess back in those days they diagnosed everyone much quicker. Martín asks the doctor what treatment plan in available.

One does not simply meme

I saw his despairing look as he realised I had not wanted to understand what he was telling me. I nodded once more, fighting the tide of nausea that was beginning to rise up my throat. The doctor poured me a glass of water from a jug and handed it to me. I drank it in one gulp.

There is no treatment, and the doctor informs Martín he has maybe nine months to live. Martín returns home and tries to write, but cannot find any inspiration. He resigns himself to the fact that he is never going to write another instalment for City of the Damned.

Ignatius B. Samson had been left lying on the rails in front of that tram, exhausted, his soul bled dry, poured into too many pages that should never have seen the light of day. But before departing he had conveyed to me his last wishes: that I should bury him without any fuss and that, for once in my life, I should have the courage to use my own voice.

Funny how dying focuses your mind on what you really want. Even Cristina couldn’t inspire him to get the courage to write for himself, but now that he knows he will be dead in nine months, he finally forges his own path.

He burns the pages of the manuscript he has written so far and the following day he goes to the office of his publisher to tell them the happy news that they will no longer be able to make money off him. Right. That will go over well.

Barrido, one of the publishers, tries to be reasonable.

‘Martin, sit down and tell me what this is about. There’s something worrying you, I can see. You can be open with us – we’re like family.’

Pardon me if I don’t believe that.

Lady Venom and Escobillas nodded with conviction, showing the measure of their esteem in a look of spellbound devotion. I decided to remain standing. They all did the same, staring at me as if I were a pillar of salt that was about to start talking. Barrido’s face hurt from so much smiling.

This passage with the publishers is actually quite funny. The characters are so bizarre, they are almost caricatures, but somehow it works to convey the idea that they are just greedy, soulless men.

Martín explains that he does not want to write any more stories under the name Ignatius B. Samson, telling the publishers that Ignatius committed suicide by stepping in front of a tram. Barrido is still trying to be reasonable and suggests that Martín takes nine months off from being Ignatius to write a novel of his own, bearing his own name. Martín knows of course that he won’t be alive in nine months, so that suits him very well.

He starts right away, working on his book and Vidal’s book at the same time.

I would write especially for Cristina, to prove to her that I too was able to pay the debt I had with Vidal and that even if he was about to drop dead, David Martín had earned himself the right to look her in the eye without feeling ashamed of his ridiculous hopes.

Of course we have to drag Cristina into this. And I don’t really understand how writing his own book is paying off the debt he has with Vidal, isn’t polishing Vidal’s book pay off enough? Or is that the debt?

confused gandalf

Martín is a bit more organised this time and has his groceries delivered by the grocer’s daughter. He doesn’t pay her much attention, but does tip her a ten-céntimo after each delivery.

Cristina has stopped coming by as well, so I guess Martín can now fully concentrate on writing his own book. Martín finds out that Cristina’s father has suffered an aneurysm and she has gone with him to a sanatorium.

Vidal comes by and they chat a bit about Manuel. When Martín asks about Vidal’s novel, he says,

‘I think it’s going to be something big,’ he said. ‘After all those months I thought I’d wasted, I reread the first fifty pages Cristina typed out for me and I was quite surprised at myself. I think it will surprise you too. I may still have some tricks to teach you.’

I don’t think so, poor, misguided soul. I still maintain that Vidal must have noticed that the writing wasn’t his own.

Vidal drinks too much wine and becomes a bit contemplative.

‘There are some things I’ve never told you, David. Things that perhaps I should have told you years ago…’
I let a moment go by. It seemed an eternity. Whatever Vidal wanted to tell me, it was clear that all the brandy in the world wasn’t going to get it out of him.
‘Don’t worry, Don Pedro. If these things have waited for years, I’m sure they can wait until tomorrow.’
‘Tomorrow I may not have the courage to tell you.’
I realised that I had never seen him look so frightened. Something had got stuck in his heart and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

Of course Vidal doesn’t unburden himself and we now know that there is some deep secret that Vidal is carrying around. Things are becoming more intriguing.

No more studying!

fireworks-574739_1280Hurray, I passed my last exams! I am now a fully qualified tax adviser, which sounds quite boring, but it was quite an achievement. Until I am a very famous, best-selling writer I will have to keep my day job and this qualification will help me in my current job and any future job prospects, so I am very happy I have it. It was three and a half years of hard work, my youngest son doesn’t remember anything other than me studying all the time, so it is such a relief to see all that hard work pay off. Now I can concentrate on writing and blogging in my spare time!

The Angel’s Game read-along: Act One, Chapter 13

Martín wakes up and doesn’t know where he is.

Thick column of stone rose like trees in the shadows towards a naked vault. Needles of dusty light fell diagonally, revealing what looked like endless rows of ramshackle beds. Small drops of water fell from the heights like black tears, exploding with an echo as they touched the ground. The darkness smelled of mildew and damp.

It is little nuggets of imagery like this that makes the book less of a drag to read through, and that made Shadow of the Wind such a success.

It doesn’t look like a hospital and Martín asks a man in another bed where he is. The man is not very forthcoming with information, other than to say that he can either leave via the roof if he is no longer inclined to live, or just by the exit. Martín chooses to go up to the roof, presumably to commit suicide. Once on the roof, he realises where he is.

He shares this information with the reader by telling the reader when the view is.

Spread out before me was a lake, suspended above the treetops of Ciudadela Park. The sun was beginning to set over Barcelona and the weed-covered water rippled like spilt wine. The Water Reservoir building looked like a crude castle or a prison.

So far, this does not tell me anything about where he is, unless I am supposed to have an intimate knowledge of Barcelona. He then proceeds to tell us that the Water Reservoir building was converted to a shelter for the destitute and dying and it was only after reading that passage twice that I realised that he is on the roof of the Water Reservoir building. The way the paragraph started out, it read like he was looking at the Water Reservoir building. Confusing.

At any rate, he notices that he is not alone. As Martín is still suffering from his fall and the headaches, he cannot see the person very well.

I could barely see his face against the light, but I was able to tell that he was a gentleman with black, shining eyes that seemed too big for his face.

How can he tell the man is a gentleman? By his clothes, I presume?

The man is coming closer and as he is nearing, he seems to increase in stature. Martín is feeling apprehensive and steps back, almost falling into the water reservoir. (Which was before him earlier in the chapter and he didn’t turn around to see the stranger, so how it ended up behind him is a mystery.) The stranger pulls him back from the edge, saving his life.

Martín can now see him clearly.

His eyes were a normal size, his height similar to mine and his walk and gestures were like those of any other gentlemen.

Martín notices the man is wearing a small silver brooch like an angel with outspread wings.

It occurred to me that the presence of an impeccably dressed gentleman here in the roof terrace was rather unusual.

Oh, you find that unusual, do you? But meeting your fictitious character in a building that burnt down fifteen years ago was all right? Or receiving the exact copy of Great Expectations that was sold years ago with your bloodstained fingerprints on it? Clearly, Martín is very selective in what he finds unusual.

The stranger and Martín start talking, and Martín realises it is Andreas Corelli, his mysterious admirer.

He spoke with a light accent which I was unable to identify. My instinct told me to get up and leave as fast as possible, before the stranger could utter another word, but there was something in his voice, in his eyes, that transmitted calm and trust. […] His smile seemed to promise redemption.

At last Martín has some feelings that seem at least reasonable considering the situation. And I have to admit that I can understand him not walking away from this stranger.

Andreas Corelli explains he wants Martín to work for him for a whole year, to write a book for him.

If you could just go ahead

He says that the stuff Martín is currently writing is garbage, not worth his time. He mentions that Cristina holds that opinion as well. When asked by Martín whether he knows her, Corelli replies,

‘I’ve heard of her. She seems to be the sort of woman whose respect and admiration one would give anything to win, don’t you agree?’

He seems to know quite a bit about Martín, including what buttons to push to make Martín do what he wants.

He offers Martín one hundred thousand francs to write the book. Martín points out that he isn’t much of a writer, that he writes under a pseudonym and that no one even knows who he is.

‘Right now I am satisfied if I manage one or two decent sentences in an hour.’

I am surprised at this lack of confidence all of a sudden, in the previous chapter he was full of confidence about how well he was changing Vidal’s book.

Corelli waves all those objections away, saying he is a far better writer than he gives himself credit for.

‘I know exactly what sort of author and what sort of man you are. I’ve been watching you for years, as you are well aware. […] I dare say I know you better than you know yourself. Which is why I’m sure that in the end you will accept my offer.’

Yep, Corelli is a creepy stalker. He insists that Martín will change his mind and asks Martín to think over his proposal. He leaves promising Martín that when they meet next time, Martín will see things more clearly.

In the last rays of daylight falling on the city his eyes glowed like embers.
I saw him disappear through the door to the staircase. Only then did I realise that during the entire conversation I had not once seen him blink.

This was the first chapter in a long while where I wasn’t thoroughly fed up with Martín. He was not annoyingly arrogant or stupid, and the interaction with Corelli was quite interesting. Of course he wouldn’t accept Corelli’s offer right away – it is almost too good to be true – but I think Corelli is right that Martín will eventually accept. The money is good and Martín does want to publish a book with his name on the front. Not a pseudonym, but his own name.

Very interesting.

The Angel’s Game read-along: Act One, Chapters 11 and 12

We start the chapter with Martín cleaning up the house. Despite the fact that he has lived in that run-down old house for seven years, doing nothing but write and sleep and occasionally going for a stroll, he can clean the whole house in a morning. I have a hard time cleaning my four-bedroom generally well-kept house in a morning, so it stretches the boundaries of belief that Martín can do his unkempt house in ill-health in a morning.

Nevertheless, he cleans the house, buys flowers only to discover when he comes home that he doesn’t know where the vases are. Cristina finally comes by in the afternoon and comments on his house, asking why he chose to live in such big house all alone.

Someone who lives alone, I thought. You end up becoming what you see in the eyes of those you love.

While I think that statement has some truth in it, it does not really apply here, does it? He didn’t become someone who lives alone, he has been someone who lives alone for the last seven years. It hardly took Cristina mentioning it for him to become it.

Cristina’s visit to Martín is not a friendly, social visit. She wants something from him. She wants him to help Vidal.

‘You’re his best friend. You know him. He talks about you as if you were his son. He loves you more than anyone. You know that.’

I am not sure that this is necessarily true, even though Cristina is probably close enough to Vidal to know how he feels. But she could just be saying this to make Martín help Vidal. What I have seen of Vidal so far is that he does like to meddle into Martín’s affairs, and he is concerned about Martín, but I haven’t seen such deep love.

Apparently Vidal is working on his masterpiece and it is not going well. He has lost faith in his book, he keeps revising and making things worse.

‘He says he envies you, he wants to be like you…’

Cristina goes on to say that Vidal is drinking and that if Vidal knew that she went to Martín, he would be furious. All in all a dismal picture.

I felt an intense cold invading me: the knowledge that while the man to whom I owed my life had plunged into despair, I had been locked in my own world and hadn’t paused for one second to notice.

Finally Martín has a bit of self-insight.

So Martín agrees to help Cristina save Vidal’s manuscript by rewriting it.

I will never know whether I did it to help Vidal, as I kept telling myself, or simply as an excuse to spend more time with Cristina.

I would hazard a guess and say he did it to spend more time with Cristina. He hasn’t cared for anyone else so far, except Cristina, why would he start caring now?

They start working on the story. As Cristina is Vidal’s secretary, she receives the pages from Vidal to type up. Instead of typing them up, she brings them to Martín and together they revise the story so that it becomes a good story. Martín is a bit surprised that the story is based on an idea which Martín had pitched to Vidal a long time ago and that Vidal hadn’t told him he would use the idea. He is also surprised how badly it is written.

The storyline put together by Vidal was so vague and insipid that I decided to recover the one I had invented when I originally suggested it to him. Slowly we brought the characters back to life, rebuilding them from head to toe. Not a single scene, moment, line or word survived the process and yet, as we advanced, I had the impression we were doing justice to the novel that Vidal carried in his heart and had decided to write without knowing how.

Right. Martín is an infinitely better writer than anyone else he knows. Is it just me or is that point belaboured time and again?

They work hard on the manuscript and Vidal doesn’t notice that his work is rewritten. While I do agree with Martín that Vidal would be the type of person to think highly of himself, considering how down he was on his writing, would he not raise his eyebrows a bit at how good he has suddenly become in the style of Martín?

Cristina is getting worried about Martín, as he works hard on Vidal’s manuscript by day, and writes his own City of the Damned stories by night, leaving him barely any sleep.

‘Perhaps you should slow down a bit. You don’t look well.

Based on the reports in the chapters before this, Martín hasn’t looked well for years, so odd of Cristina to only notice that now.

I’m not worried about Pedro any more – I’m concerned about you.’
‘Something good had to come of all this.’

What does Martín even mean by that last sentence? What is that something good? Him collaborating with Cristina? Making Vidal happy? It’s very vague.

Martín is getting more and more unwell, but it’s all worth it because he is spending time with Cristina.

I knew perfectly well that Cristine could read it in my eyes every time she came, and I knew perfectly well that she would never respond to my advances.

Despite this, he “grows bolder” and holds her hand from time to time.

She let me, but I knew it made her feel uncomfortable;

Then why do you do it, you creep? Especially since you know “perfectly well” she won’t respond to your advances.

she felt that it was not right, that our debt of gratitude to Vidal united and separated us at the same time.

Or maybe she just doesn’t like you that way, have you ever thought about that? She wasn’t particularly interested in you before you started this whole project.

One night, shortly before she left, I held her face in my hands and tried to kiss her. She remained motionless and when I saw myself in the mirror of her eyes I didn’t dare speak. She stood up and left without saying a word.

We really aren’t supposed to like Martín, are we? I am confused about that, because he is such a dick; there is no way Carlos Ruiz Zafón intended him as a likeable character who we have to feel compassion for, right?

Martín feels that Cristina doesn’t approve of his writing City of the Damned either and that cuts him to the core. He knows deep down that she is right and that he does not have the courage to write from the heart.

I fantasied about ending my contract and writing a book just for her, a book with which I could earn her respect. If the only thing I knew how to do wasn’t good enough for Cristina, perhaps I should return to the grey, miserable days of the newspaper. I could always live off Vidal’s charity and favours.

He has known for a while that this is how she felt, as Vidal had told him, and that hasn’t made him change his writing habits, so this doesn’t really ring true. He has always seemed quite happy to write his heart out and enjoy the success of his City of the Damned stories and the only interest he has shown in Cristina so far has only been sexual. He didn’t really care about her feelings when he kissed her and kept pawing her hand, so why should he care now?

La Sagrada Familia

At the end of the chapter, Martín goes out for a walk to the Sagrada Familia, which is still a building site at that time. In fact, it is still not finished, not expected to be finished until 2026. He walks around, ends up on the tram line and when a tram approaches, he is unable to move. He sees a blinding light and passes out right after seeing the tram coming to a stop centimetres in front of his face. So I guess his crippling headaches were more than just headaches and have finally caught up with him.

The Angel’s Game read-along: Act One, Chapter 10

In the interest of full disclosure: I know there are not a lot of pictures in my read-alongs. It is always said that if you have pictures in your blog posts, more people will like to read them, but I find it time consuming enough to write the read-along blog posts, let alone spend hours scouring the internet for suitable pictures to insert in the posts. So every now and then I will find an easy picture and insert them, other than that you will have to make do with just text.

On with the read-along.

Martín continues to obsess about Cristina and stalk her at Sempere. So much so that she is forced to send Vidal’s servants to pick up the books rather than go herself. After having just noticed in the previous chapter that Martín always introduces Cristina by telling us she is the chauffeur’s daughter, this is completely abandoned in this chapter and she is now plain Cristina.

Martín’s headaches and dizzy spells are getting worse, but he resists going to the doctor’s for reasons he is not sharing with the readers. The rate at which he needs to crank out the City of the Damned books leaves him with no time to write anything else, but the publishers keep promising him a sabbatical soon so he can write his masterpiece and publish it under his own name.

Vidal keeps visiting Martín, but as he doesn’t like the house, they always go for a stroll. On one of these strolls, Vidal tells Martín what Cristina thinks of him.

‘She didn’t say it in so many words, but she seemed to imply that she couldn’t understand how you could prostitute yourself by writing second-rate serials for that pair of thieves; that you were throwing away your talent and you youth.’

Of course this greatly upsets Martín, but I happen to agree with Cristina: Martín doesn’t seem to derive any pleasure from writing those serials and it is seemingly making him quite ill.

Martín has taken up the habit of going out on Sundays when he goes to the places of lesser repute and find some consolation in the arms of different women.

One afternoon I was sitting in the Café de la Ópera with a music teacher called Alicia, helping her get over – or so I imagined – someone who was hard to forget. I was about to kiss her when I saw Cristina’s face on the other side of the glass pane.

When he meets Cristina again at the opera with Vidal, she is very cold and stand-offish with him, which I don’t quite understand. She barely knows him, she stopped going to Sempere so she wouldn’t run into him again, so what does she care what he does in his free time with other women?

He then runs into her again shortly after and she is all smiles and apologies, which again feels strange, but I’ll go with the flow. Martín doesn’t seem to give her behaviour any thought either, he has something else on his mind.

I smiled and nodded. The only things I felt at that moment was the need to kiss her. Cristina held my gaze defiantly. She didn’t turn her face when I stretched out my hand and touched her kips, sliding my finger down her chin and neck.
‘Not like this,’ she said at last.

Am I alone in finding Martín a little bit creepy?

Some months later Vidal takes Martín out for a ride. They go to Vidal’s house and a large group of people is waiting for them there. The usual characters we have already met, and

some of the authors who, like me, published their work with Barrido & Escobillas, and with whom I had established a friendship;

When did Martín have time to establish friendships? He sleeps all day, writes all night and has sex with prostitutes on his only day off. Never before this chapter have we seen him cultivate friendships with any other author – all authors always seem to be too bitter towards him because of his success.

The people are all gathered together to celebrate Martín’s twenty-eigth birthday, so I guess seven years have passed since he first started writing City of the Damned.

Cristina is also at the party (why?) and she pulls him aside to tell him that she needs to see him.

‘Could it be at your house? I don’t want anyone to see us and I don’t want Pedro to know I’ve spoken with you.’

Very mysterious!

Martín notices that she doesn’t call Vidal Don Pedro anymore, but just Pedro, but he is too happy that she wants to come visit to really dwell on it. It is an indication that something is going on between those two, which is further confirmed by Vidal’s reaction to seeing Cristina and Martín together.

Vidal glanced at me coldly from one end of the room and only smiled when he realised that I was watching him.

At the end of the party, Manuel drives Martín home. He is silent and looks fragile and when Martín asks if everything is all right, he says he is just worried about some health problems. He then asks Martín to look after Cristina if anything happens to him. Or rather,

‘If anything happens to me,’ he said then, ‘you would help her, wouldn’t you, Señor Martín? You would do that for me?’

It seems very odd to me that he would ask Martín, a fairly unstable, sickly person with no real money of his own, to help – not look after, but help – his daughter. Help her how? What does she need help with? Doesn’t Vidal look after her properly? Or is it Vidal she needs saving from?

Writing is hard

2013-11-14_19-51-06_34NaNoWriMo has come and gone and I won with 60,000 words. That is fantastic and I am very proud of myself. But then December rolled around and with the Christmas holidays and being sick with the flu, I only wrote another 13,000 words on top of that. Needless to say, I still haven’t finished my book yet. I have to admit I find it hard to keep myself motivated when I don’t have the pressure of NaNoWriMo. While for me that pressure is not sustainable over a period longer than a month, it would be nice to have some sort of accountability for how much I write each month. I have made myself a simple Excel graph which shows my progress per month and that definitely helps, but no one knows whether I actually progress or not. So I may publish my stats here on the blog each month, just so that I have some sort of public shaming (even if it is only in my head) if I do badly in a month.

The problem with writing is that if you keep the momentum going and you write every day, it is fairly easy to keep the story flowing. When you don’t write for a week (which happened to me in December when I was sick), it is that much harder to get back into it.

I found it therefore very heartening to read on other writers’ blogs that their New Year’s resolution was to write every day, even if it is just 100 words. And these are writers who do not have a full time job in addition to their writing. So if even they have a hard time staying focused and motivated, I shouldn’t beat myself up so much.

I think part of why writing is hard for me this time around is because I didn’t properly plan my novel. On one hand I find it very liberating and I enjoy being able to explore where my characters are going. On the other hand, there will be SO much editing to do when I am done. I already am keeping notes in a notebook of what needs to change and it is disheartening to realise how much tightening up I still need to do (not to mention fixing all the inconsistencies that are springing up like weeds).

BUT: I know that writing makes me happy. Even if I don’t feel like sitting down and writing, I know that once I have written a chapter, or scene, I feel so relaxed and happy. And that should be motivation enough. (Also, now that I have fixed my laptop up with a SSD and more memory, it is so much faster, so that makes it easier too.) (Plus the fact that I am using Scrivener now.)

So no more excuses, on to writing another scene!

The Angel’s Game read-along: Act One, Chapters 8 and 9

Martín goes to view the house along with the property manager – who does not hide his disdain for the house – and the auditor. The house has been deserted for twenty years and it definitely shows.

The entrance resembled one of those interior courtyards in the old palaces of the area, paved with large flagstones and a stone staircase that led to the front door of the living quarters. Daylight filtered in through a glass skylight, completely covered in pigeon and seagull excrement, that was set on high.
‘There aren’t any rats,’ I announced once I was inside the building.

He figured that out quite quickly. How would he have known from setting one step inside the building that there were not rats? I thought at first that it was because of the pigeon and seagull pooh, but that is on the outside of the skylight.

They proceed through the front door into the living quarters where it is desolate and dirty and smelly.

I walked up the main corridor, exploring rooms of all shapes and sizes in which old furniture lay abandoned under a thick layer of dust and shadow. One table was still covered with a frayed tablecloth on which sat a dinner service and a tray of petrified food and flowers. The glasses and cutlery were still there, as if the inhabitants of the house had fled in the middle of dinner.

Martín then makes the brilliant observation,

‘It looks like whoever lived here left suddenly, with no time to take anything with them.’

No shit, Sherlock!

They proceed to the study which is at the top of a tall tower. It has four windows looking out over four different parts of Barcelona. Martín is quite taken by this room, but what sells it for him is an old Underwood typewriter which is sitting on the desk in the study.

Underwood typewriter

Once Martín moves in, a lot of work needs to be done to get the place habitable. For one, the house has no electricity and soon the place is crawling with workmen trying to rectify this little problem. Presumably it is the property manager who pays for this all, as Martín is only renting the place, but the workmen are less than pleased as the plans for the house do not match how the house is actually constructed. Martín waves all the complaints away as he is not interested in all that boring, practical stuff. He just wants to get on with his writing.

And he does. He throws himself into writing City of the Damned, preferably writing at night. He is completely obsessed with writing, only consuming coffee and cigarettes. He starts getting headaches, but ignores them, because writing is more important. He even starts speaking of himself in the third person.

He worked all night and collapsed from exhaustion at dawn, possessed by strange dreams in which the letters on the page trapped in the typewriter would come unstuck and, like spiders made of ink, would crawl up his hands and face, working their way through his skin and nesting in his veins until his heart was covered in black and his pupils were clouded in pools of darkness.

I would like to pause here for a moment and make an observation. I think Carlos Ruiz Zafón has a great way with words, as the above illustrates. He is good with images and setting different moods. But I find his characters – and the story so far – lacking. Martín is supposed to be this driven, obsessed young writer, but all I see is a whiney young man who thinks far too highly of himself and does not possess particularly sharp observation skills. I think this is what threw me the first time I read this book. There was this expectation of having to like it – “It’s Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s new book, hurray!” – but I didn’t like it and I couldn’t understand why. I think I am getting a glimpse of understanding now. I’ll come out and say it: I don’t like Martín.

Moving on. We flash forward a year and Martín decides to celebrate by going out into the sunshine. He has been cooped up in the house for months on end he tells us. So did he literally just exist on coffee and cigarettes, because wouldn’t he be dead now? And if not, who did the shopping for him, as we don’t hear about any maids or anything.

Anyhow, he goes out and when he comes back he finds a package from his mystery fan Andreas Corelli.

I stared at the bundle of paper which to me, in a not so distant past, had seemed to contain all the magic and light of the world. The cover still bore my bloodstained fingerprints.
‘Thank you,’ I whispered.

He then takes this package to Sempere to verify the authenticity. Which seems prudent, as it is very strange that Andreas Corelli knows about the book and Martín’s history with it. Especially if it turns out to be the exact same book he had given back to Sempere.

While he is in the bookshop, Cristina is there also. Now I want to point out something that I hadn’t noticed as much before. Whenever Cristina comes into the picture, Martín always hastens to add that she is Vidal’s chauffeur’s daughter. Now that he has learned in a previous chapter that she is also Vidal’s secretary, he introduces her as follows:

Cristina Sagnier, the chauffeur’s daughter and my mentor’s secretary…

I don’t know what this signifies, but it does seem very odd to me. I will ponder on it some more.

Martín just stares at her and Cristina looks up and smiles.

Sempere looked up and when he noticed the silly expression on my face, he took a quick X-ray of the situation.
‘You do know each other, don’t you?’ he said.

How does he make that connection? Martín probably looks at Cristina with lust on his face and if she is as beautiful as Martín makes her out to be, he could just be smitten with a beautiful woman. I don’t see how Sempere could immediately leap to the conclusion that they know each other.

Martín offers to help Cristina carry her order of books to her car, which proves to be very heavy.

Cristina was looking at me unconvinced. I offered her my ‘strong man’ smile.
‘Pure muscle,’ I said. ‘This is just a warm-up exercise.’

I would love to know what a strong man smile is exactly. I find this whole section a bit awkward, but that is probably good, as it was awkward for Martín as well. He is clearly in love with Cristina and she doesn’t really remember who he is.

Semepere teases Martín about his crush.

‘I know your secret now, Martín. I thought you had a steadier nerve in these matters.’
‘Everything gets a bit rusty.’

What nerve would he have had? The only woman who he had ever been with was the fictional Chloé, who we don’t hear about at all anymore. Other than that, he has been locked away in his house writing, so when he would have met another woman to develop a steady nerve is beyond me. But maybe Sempere doesn’t know that.