The Angel’s Game read-along: Act Two, Chapters 7 and 8

These two chapters don’t go particularly well together, but chapters 6 and 7 would have been too much together and chapter 7 is too short on its own, so here we go.

Chapter 7 starts with Martín waking up with a hangover. Isabella is sitting by his bed with a pot of coffee and quickly pours him a cup as soon as she sees he is awake. She has stayed at his house while he slept and has cleaned the house (most of it). She asks Martín if she can stay with him and he tells her he wants her out of his house. She hands him a letter that came for him from Corelli, asking for an audience that evening.

Martín stays in his study all day and when he comes out, Isabella is gone. He wanders around the silent house and finds one of his old books – City of the Damned – on a lectern. He opens it and reads a few lines.

The studied naivety of those lines made me smile and brought back a suspicion that had never really left me: perhaps it would have been better for everyone, especially for me, if Ignatius B. Samson had never committed suicide and David Martín had never taken his place.

I would have thought that at this point in the story it is still good for Martín the way things turned out, although I guess he is haunted by the police. But I would have expected that it would have been better especially for the publishers, who are now dead, had Ignatius B. Samson not died.

But I can’t even get too upset about this, because the next chapter Martín goes to meet Corelli at his house – where Corelli has acquired a silent butler – and they have an amazing conversation about religion. This chapter is what makes Carlos Ruiz Zafon so great. The philosophy is wonderful, the language is great and it really makes you think. This chapter more than makes up for the inconsistencies in the story and makes me understand why The Angel’s Game is such a lauded book.

I can’t excerpt the whole chapter, that wouldn’t be right and it would be unnecessary. So if you haven’t read the book yourself, I would recommend at least reading this chapter. I will give a few of my favourite quotes below though.

First we get a description of Corelli sitting in his living room where Martín was waiting for him.

He was sitting in an armchair, completely still, half in darkness, the light from an oil lamp revealing only his legs and his hands as they rested on the arms of the chair. I recognised him by the glow of his unblinking eyes and by the angel-shaped brooch he always wore on his lapel. As soon as I looked at him he stood up and came over to me with quick steps – too quick – and a wolfish smile that froze my blood.

Devil meme

Corelli proposes to go sit outside as the weather is nice and he offers Martín something to drink. Martin declines and asks Corelli whether he has heard about the fire at Barrido and Escobillas. Corelli doesn’t seem to disturbed by it and he closes the matter quickly as he is not interested in talking about that with Martín. Instead, he asks Martín what faith means to him.

Martín responds by saying that doubt is his faith. Corelli pushes the matter a bit more, asking Martín’s speculation on why religions have appeared and disappeared throughout history. Corelli then explains to Martín what he thinks about history, which Martín then clarifies when he says:

‘If I understand you correctly, you’re suggesting that faith, the act of believing in myths, ideologies or supernatural legends, is the consequence of biology.’

Corelli confirms this and goes on to say that faith is crucial to our survival.

‘It is part of our nature to survive. Faith is an instinctive response to aspects of existence that we cannot explain by any other means – be it the moral void we perceive in the universe, the certainty of death, the mystery of the origin of things, the meaning of our own lives, or the absence of meaning.’

Martín becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the discussion and he suggests Corelli should have picked an intellectual to write the book for him.

‘I can assure you that most of them have never seen a hundred thousand francs in their lives. I bet they’d be prepared to sell their soul, or even invent it, for a fraction of that amount.’

I’m pretty sure Martín also sold his soul, although in his case it was not for the money.

Corelli counters that an intellectual is usually someone who is not very intelligent, but claims to have a lot of intellect. Corelli needs an intelligent man, and he has found one in Martín.

Martín is getting fed up and becomes sarcastic, but Corelli won’t have any of it. He coldly reminds Martín that he is paying him very well, which is the only real form of flattery. He also adds that while he is paying Martín, he expects Martín to follow Corelli’s instructions.

Martín pipes down after that for a bit and Corelli goes on to discuss practicalities. He wants to meet every fortnight and he reminds Martín that whatever he writes will be owned by Corelli. Martín’s name will not appear on the book, which makes sense if you are going to invent a religion. So Martín’s words from a chapter earlier are coming true here: he is probably worse off than when he was working for Barrido and Escobillas, as at least they allowed him to write whatever he wanted – within a certain genre. Corelli is a lot more scary.

Martín asks Corelli what the objective is of him writing a religion.

‘Because you want to live.’
‘That sounds vaguely threatening.’
‘A simple and friendly reminder of what you already know. You’ll help me because you want to live and because you don’t care about the price or the consequences. Because not that long ago you saw yourself at death’s door and now you have an eternity before you and the opportunity of a life. You will help me because you are human. And because, although you don’t admit it, you have faith.’ [Emphasis mine.]

So, there we have it. Martín sealed a contract with Corelli, in exchange for his life. At the time he agreed to write a religion for Corelli, he likely did not know how scary Corelli really was, or what exactly was expected from him, but now Corelli has him in his clutches. And from Corelli’s words (emphasis in the quote above), Martín did not only get cured of his brain tumour, he got eternal life.

Martín leaves shortly after this.

I have not done this chapter justice in my quotes and my recap. I do not agree with Corelli on his theory of what religion is, but I can understand, follow, and admire his reasoning. And there are real gems in what he is saying and I would really recommend reading this chapter. If I have put you off reading the book in all the other recaps of the other chapters, at least read this one. I will leave you with this last quote, which I find particularly poignant:

‘There is nothing in the path of life that we don’t already know before we started. Nothing important is learned, it is simply remembered.’

The Angel’s Game read-along: Act Two, Chapter 6

There has been a hiatus in these read-alongs because I had a party to plan for last Saturday. I usually try to write these blog posts at my lunch break, but last week my lunch breaks were filled with trips to the shops. But we’re back on track.

I was talking to someone who regularly reads my blog and she told me she doesn’t read these read-alongs as she doesn’t like how negative I am about this book. I can understand that, but it made me think. I never set out to be negative about this book, I had no particular feeling after reading this book for the first time, other than being a bit confused. I set out to sort out my confusion and to try to understand the story better, and in doing so, I discovered a lot of unanswered questions and inconsistencies, which one might not pick up on when one just reads the book for pleasure. So that is maybe the reason for the negativity, although I do believe that a good book can stand up to close scrutiny. I still believe that people get lured in by the rich imagery and florid sentences in the book and don’t look too closely to what lies behind it. I have decided to try to capture some of the beautiful writing in my blog posts, by posting excerpts, but I cannot promise that I will be less critical of any inconsistencies I may find, as I think that was what nagged me when I first read the book.

Anyhow, cracking on.

Martín finally sits down and mulls over the weird things that have happened to him recently.

It was hard to imagine that there was no connection between the fire in which Barrido and Escobillas had perished, Corelli’s proposal – I hadn’t heard a single word from him, which made me suspicious – and the strange manuscript I had rescued from the Cemetery of Forgotten Book, which I suspected had been written within the four walls of my study.

But he doesn’t ponder on the greatest miracle of his health suddenly improving drastically.

He then dismisses the fire, arguing that the matter of the fire is in the hands of the police and there is really nothing he can do about it. With regards to the manuscript having been written in his house, he decides to do a little bit of investigating in his own house.

He decides to start with the room in which he dumped most of the belongings of the person who lived in the house before him. It has been locked, so he unlocks the door and a horrible stench greets him. He rummages through the stuff in the room, not really sure what he is looking for.

I was about to leave the room when I heard the wardrobe door slowly opening behind my back. A puff of icy, damp air touched the nape of my neck. I turned around slowly. The wardrobe door was half open and I could see the old dresses and suits that hung inside it, eaten away by time, fluttering like seaweed under water. The current of fetid cold air was coming from within.

He investigates the wardrobe, discovering a hole in the wall behind the wardrobe. When he tries to look through the hole a black spider crawls out, scaring Martín. He decides to leave the room alone, but the stench that was in the room has now filtered through the whole house. All very creepy.

Martín leaves the house, but is pleased with the discovery of the hole in the wall (not sure why he would be pleased). He goes to visit Sempere, intending to take the bookseller to lunch. Sempere will have none of it, so Martín invites Sempere’s son instead. (Does the man actually have a name?)

Even though we’d known one another since we were children, I couldn’t remember having had more than three or four short conversations with him. I didn’t know if any vices or weaknesses he might have, but I had it on good authority that among the girls in the quarter he was considered to be quite a catch, the official golden bachelor.

I am sorry for pointing out yet another inconsistency, but whose authority is Martín talking about? Is this from the time when he went and visited all the prostitutes? Do they consider him a catch? Because other than them, he hasn’t really socialised with a lot of people, hardly ever leaving his house, so I am not sure who has told him that Sempere’s son is quite a catch. Maybe Martín is just really plugged into the neighbourhood grapevine.

Martín takes Sempere’s son to La Maison Dorée, a restaurant he has last been at with Vidal. They are stuck in the back at a rubbish table and as they are sitting there waiting for service, Vidal comes into the restaurant with Cristina. This really upsets Martín and Sempere’s son suggests they go elsewhere. Martín agrees, then asks Sempere’s son to not mention the incident to his father. I am not sure first of all why Sempere’s son would tell his father and second why Martín would care. It was well known how he felt about Cristina, so being upset about seeing her being kissed by another man would not be so strange.

They then go to a café and order some wine. Martín tries to talk to Sempere’s son about why he doesn’t have a girlfriend, but as Martín is basically the same age as Sempere’s son, it comes off as quite condescending. It’s not like Martín himself is married with kids, so who is he to question Sempere’s son’s bachelor status?

Martín gets really drunk, and once again asks Sempere’s son not to tell his dad about it. Sempere’s son leaves him alone and Martín visits another seven bars before passing out on a bench. He has a dream about Vidal’s funeral.

The following excerpt is quite long, but it does illustrate the dark imagery and florid language I was talking about at the beginning of my post.

A blood-filled sky flowered over the maze of crosses and angels surrounding the large mausoleum of the Vidal family in Montjuïc Cemetery. A silent cortège peopled with black veils encircled the amphitheatre of darkened marble that formed the portico of the tomb. Each figure carried a long white candle. The light from a hundred flames sculpted the contours of a great marble angel on a pedestal overcome with grief and loss. At the angel’s feet lay the open grave of my mentor and, inside it, a glass sarcophagus. Vidal’s body, dressed in white, lay under the glass, his eyes wide open. Black tears ran down his cheeks. The silhouette of his widow, Cristina, emerged from the cortège; she fell on her knees next to the body, drowning in grief. One by one, the members of the procession walked past the deceased and dropped black roses on his glass coffin, until it was almost completely covered and all one could see was his face. Two faceless gravediggers lowered the coffin into the grave, the base of which was flooded with a thick, dark liquid. The sarcophagus floated on the sheet of blood, which slowly filtered the coffin, covering Vidal’s dead body. Before his face was completely submerged, my mentor moved his eyes and looked at me. A flock of birds took to the air and I started to run, losing my way among the paths of the endless city of the dead. Only the sound of distant crying enabled me to find the exit and to avoid the laments and pleadings of the dark, shadowy figures who waylaid me, begging me to take them with me, to rescue them form their eternal darkness.

This is beautiful, haunting and very dark. I think it captures Martín’s mood well, especially after seeing Cristina and Vidal as a married couple and this is definitely why Carlos Ruiz Zafon is such a powerful writer. Now, if only the plot was as tight as his language…

Martín is woken up by two policemen and sent on his way home. He struggles to make it home, only to find Isabel waiting for him on the steps “like a curse”. He is not happy at all to see her, and reluctantly lets her in. She explains that her father has kicked her out of the house as she has decided not to work in her father’s shop anymore, but instead be a full time writer.

She brings Martín upstairs, tucks him into bed and sits with him as he cries drunken tears of regret over Cristina.

….asking no questions, offering no opinion, offering nothing other than her company and her kindness until I fell asleep.

I find the way Martín changes his feelings about Isabel confusing as well. Martín seems to have a hard time relating to other people, either reading their moods incorrectly or swinging between like and dislike in the case of Isabel. Although the book is narrated by Martín, I am starting to wonder how reliable a narrator he actually is. Does he change things in order to make himself look better? Does he regret his initial unkind thoughts about Isabel upon seeing her waiting for him at his house, and he offers a nice description in return? Maybe that is the secret of the inconsistencies in the book – an unreliable narrator.

Book review – Love Lies by Adele Parks

love liesThe book is written in the first person narrative from the point of view of alternatively Fern and Scottie. The story opens with Fern being dissatisfied with life, especially with her relationship with Adam. They have grown apart and their relationship is not going anywhere. Adam seems to take her for granted, spending far too much time with his friends and hardly any time with Fern. Fern is turning thirty soon and she is upset that she is not married yet. She wants Adam to propose to her – although it is not clear to me why, she barely seems to like him, let alone love him – and even gives him an ultimatum. He either proposes to her before she turns thirty (in a week) or the relationship is over.

Fern admits to herself that she has always wanted to get married and maybe her wanting Adam to propose to her only stems from her desire to get married – irrespective to whom. Her thirtieth birthday arrives and Adam surprises Fern in bed with an envelope with three tickets to see the pop star Scottie Taylor in concert. He was able to get three tickets for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday show, as well as all access backstage passes, as he works as assistant stage manager for Scottie. Although Fern is a huge fan of Scottie Taylor, she is not impressed with the gift. For one, she wanted a ring, and two, Adam hadn’t even paid for the tickets.

She goes with Adam to his work and wanders around, checking things out backstage, while Adam works. She meets Scottie in his dressing room and she feels an instant attraction to him. They banter, flirt, play cards and Fern feels herself falling in love. The concert is that night and her friends Lisa and Jess come with her. Scottie sings Happy Birthday to her, and Fern practically swoons.

That night, Adam and Fern have a row over how much time Fern spent in Scotties dressing room and how Scottie sang Happy Birthday to her. Fern feels slightly guilty about her feelings for Scottie, but since Adam hasn’t proposed and doesn’t seem to care about her feelings – he is only jealous – she shrugs it off.

The next two days she spends with Scottie again and at the concert on Sunday, Scottie proposes to her in front of a sold out stadium. Fern is overwhelmed, but she accepts his proposal. She is whisked away to a hotel and from there, she goes to LA with Scottie, not even bothering to go to her house in person to pick up her stuff. She just calls Adam to tell him it’s over, then embarks on a whirlwind romance with – what feels to her – the love of her life.

Things are not all they seem, however, and from Scottie’s point of view we learn that he only proposed to Fern to gain popularity in America and crack the American market. He is fond of her, but it is mostly a PR stunt. Fern’s boss (she used to work in a flower shop) Ben comes to stay with her in LA in the months leading up to the wedding and Ben and Scottie grow close. On the night before the wedding, Fern and Scottie host a big party where all her friends and family come. Towards the end of the party she finds Scottie and Ben in bed with each other. Shocked, she flees to the hotel where all her friends and family are – who are having a party there – and she tells them what happened. Of course they are shocked, but Fern wants to talk to Adam. She wants to ask him to take her back, she feels that her infatuation with Scottie was a mistake and she should have stayed with Adam. Adam tells her she can’t just run back to him, and he won’t have her back. Heart-broken, Fern goes back to her house with Scottie.

The next day is the wedding and as she walks down the aisle, Fern realises she can’t go through with it. She knows she would never be happy with Scottie, so she runs for it. She runs to the flower market, as she loves flowers (she is a florist after all) and it is there where Adam finds her. He tells her he still loves her and Fern is overjoyed. Adam even talks about getting a house together.

Okay, my thoughts on this. I really enjoyed this book. Yes, it was a bit silly at times, but it did a good job at portraying how glorious celebrity life is when you look from the outside in, but how hollow it is when you really look at the inside. Fern is very disillusioned with her life, even though she has all the money in the world to do with what she wants. She and Scottie don’t have sex – he says he wants to wait till the wedding night – and as Scottie has a lot of staff, there is not much to do at the house.

I enjoyed the part where Adam refuses to take Fern back. It felt true to his character and I thought it served Fern right, as she did leave him rather suddenly with little explanation. Adam said to her “one moment everything was fine and the next you left me” and that does not ring true, as from Fern’s point of view, things hadn’t been fine for a long time.

What I didn’t like was that Fern went back with Adam. Yes, she was dazzled by Scottie and the infatuation she felt for him was not real love. But things were not right between Adam and Fern before Scottie made his appearance, Fern had only wanted Adam to propose to her because she felt she should be married at thirty. It would have been a much more powerful ending if Fern left Scottie, but struck out on her own. Ben, who stayed in LA with Scottie, would have sold her the flower shop, so she would have had income, and she could have learned to be on her own, rather than always having to have a man in her life, no matter how bad he treated her.

A number of Fern’s friends tell her that Adam is not so bad. Ben tells Scottie that Adam had bought a house for Fern and him to live in and he was going to bring her to the house on the evening of her birthday, after the concert. That seems really stupid to me. Who goes out and commits to something as huge as buying a house without consulting their better half? Also, by all accounts, Adam didn’t really make much money, so how did he 1) find enough money for a down payment and 2) qualify for a mortgage? That part really felt to me like a devise the author had dreamed up to make Adam more likable.

This book could have been really good. It could have been about Fern growing as a person, realising that she doesn’t need a man to make her happy, that she can make it in the world on her own. Instead, she settles for Adam who just annoyed her, who doesn’t communicate with her and who doesn’t seem to care about what she wants in life.

So all in all a disappointment.

The Angel’s Game read-along: Act Two, Chapters 3-5

When Martín comes home, Inspector Grandes is waiting for him. He tells Martín that Escobillas has passed away. He gives Martín a bit more information on what happened.

‘Everything seems to indicate that somebody spilled petrol over Señor Barrido and then set fire to him. The flames spread when he panicked and tried to get out of his office. His partner and the other employees who rushed over to help him were trapped.’

Lovely. If this was the work of Corelli, he is not a man to be trifled with.

Grandes also remarks that now Barrido and Escobillas are dead, the contract Martín had with them is null and void. He is completely free to write whatever and for whomever he likes.

That night, Martín cannot sleep after having had a dream of Barrido and Escobillas dying in the fire. Not surprisingly really. He gets up and starts looking through the book he has found in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He notes again that it looks like a book of prayer.

old book

The language possessed its own cadence and what had at first seemed like a complete absence of form or style gradually turned into a hypnotic chant that permeated the reader’s mind, plunging him into a state somewhere between drowsiness and forgetfulness.

He also notes the same with the content, thinking at first that it seems like there is no structure to the content, but then the book’s theme comes to the surface: it’s all about death.

As I turned the pages I had the feeling that, step by step, I was following the map of a sick and broken mind. Line after line, the author of those pages had, without being aware of it, documented his own descent into a chasm of madness. The last third of the book seemed to suggest an attempt at retracting his steps, a desperate cry from the prison of insanity so that he might escape the labyrinth of tunnels that had formed in his mind. The text ended suddenly, midway through an imploring sentence, offering no explanation.

Martín is getting sleepy, but something is nagging at him. Eventually it dawns on him what is wrong and he checks this out on his typewriter.

I sighed. Lux Aeterna had been written on that very same typewriter and probably, I imagined, at that same desk.

This does not seem to bother Martín, as the chapter ends like this and there is no more about what Martín thinks or feels about this creepy coincidence. It is quite a big reveal, but the only sign we get from Martín about his feelings is him sighing. Is it because he doesn’t think it’s a big deal, merely a nuisance? Carlos Ruiz Zafón does this a lot and it is really starting to bother me. Since we are in Martín’s head, one would expect a bit more about what he thinks about all the weird things that are happening.

The next chapter starts with Martín going to a café. I guess Martín is a man of leisure now. No writing – where did his compulsion to write go to all of a sudden? He was so obsessed with the allegedly rubbish City of the Damned, but now that he doesn’t have to write that garbage any more, he is happy to do nothing.

He notices a girl on the church steps and cleverly surmises that this is the girl Sempere had told him about. He invites her to sit at his table and they talk about her writing.

‘Sempere tells me you are talented.’
Isabella shrugged her shoulders and smiled at me sceptically.
‘Normally, the more talent one has, the more one doubt it,’ I said. ‘And vice versa.’
‘Then I must be quite something,’ Isabella replied.
‘Welcome to the club.’

This reads a bit self-congratulatory, especially on Martín’s part. Really an ‘Aw shucks, we are so talented, but we don’t think much of ourselves’ moment. I can understand Isabella, she is a seventeen year old who does not have much faith in herself, but Martín has been writing successful stories for years and does not get tired of letting the reader know how well people think of him, so it’s not like he doesn’t really believe he is talented.

Isabella offers her services as an assistant in exchange for Martín reading her work and critiquing it. Martin is giving Isabella a hard time, but eventually tells her that she can come by the next day with twenty pages of her best work.

So the next day Isabella shows up with coffee and twenty pages of writing. She prattles on nervously, so Martín takes that moment to put Isabella in her place.

‘Isabella, for things to work out between us we’re going to have to set down a few rules. The first is that I ask the questions and you just answer them. When there are no questions from me, you don’t give me answers or spontaneous speeches. The second rules is that I can take as long as I damn well please to have breakfast, an afternoon snack or to daydream, and that does not constitute a matter for debate.’

Well, that should tell the girl who’s boss. Really, if Martín did not want to mentor this girl, why did he take her on as an assistant?

He goes into the living room and tells Isabella to go tidy the house while he reads her writing. Isabella goes about the task, but comes back to ask Martín about a room at the end of the corridor, which has a cold draft coming from under the door and smells odd. Martín tells her not to go in there. Curious…

Martín is done reading, but does not comment on Isabella’s writing. He only comments on the coffee and Isabella is hurt. Martín then sees his chance to offer another patronising speech.

‘Isabella, if you really want to devote yourself to writing, or at least to writing something others will read, you’re going to have to get used sometimes to being ignored, insulted and despised, and almost always to being considered with indifference. It comes with the territory.’

Says the man who shot to fame with his first story and who only received insults from people who were intensely jealous of his fame. Some passages from this book are great, but read like Carlos Ruiz Zafón just had something good to say which he put down regardless of whether it’s in character for Martín.

The next speech he gives Isabella is again great, and again sounds weird coming from Martín.

‘Natural talent is like an athlete’s strength. You can be born with more or less ability, but nobody can become an athlete just because he or she was born tall, or strong, or fast. What makes the athlete, or the artist, is the work, the vocation and the technique. To achieve something with it you need to transform your mind into a high-precision weapon.’

This is a speech I can use myself, considering I haven’t written my story for far too long. Not much practising writing there.

Martín admits that this is a speech that was given to him a long time ago, and I am assuming we are led to believe it was Vidal who gave it to him? I am not so sure Vidal would be that passionate about writing to be so philosophical about it.

Isabella is getting nosy and picks up Cristina’s photo album, commenting to Martín that his girlfriend is very pretty. How would she infer that Cristina is Martín’s girlfriend? Just because there is a photo album of a woman in his house…wait, that is actually plausible.

Eventually she leaves and Martín is left alone.

Her absence made me aware, for the first time, of the silence that bewitched that house.

Really? For the first time? Even after Cristina left for the last time, he didn’t sit in his house, listening to the silence? I guess he was too sick to notice back then?

At any rate, not much has happened and Martín has not started writing his religion yet. I have a feeling Corelli won’t be too happy about that. And it seems unusual for Martín, with his zeal for writing.

Writing – or lack thereof

Well, friends, it’s time I come clean. As has been obvious from my January stats, I have not been writing my book as faithful as I should – or intended. And it is now day 11 in February and I have written precisely zero words on my book so far. I have a few real-world excuses – bad cold, tired, busy at work – but they are just that: excuses. The real reason I have not written is because I have come to the realisation that my book sucks. The story is stupid, I should have spent far more time planning and plotting and I am now at a junction where I don’t think I want to go on. I need a complete rewrite of the book and just finishing it is too daunting.

As I write all this down, I think of the advice I gave to fellow writers during NaNoWriMo. “Just write through the tough spots.” “Don’t worry about the rewrites, you need to finish the first draft first before you can edit.” “Not writing is worse than writing bad stuff.” And they are all true, it’s just that it doesn’t really help saying it to myself. I find at the moment keeping up with The Angel’s Game read-along tiring enough although I do really enjoy doing it.

So tomorrow I am going to try to get back into my story. The longer I leave it, the harder it will be to get back to it and I do enjoy writing once I am doing it. It’s just getting started that is the hardest.

The Angel’s Game read-along: Act Two, Chapter 1 and 2

All right, I will be honest here. The start of Act Two is already disappointing me. I had expected Martín to do at least a little bit of contemplating or soul searching about the mysterious and miraculous events of the night before, but just as with his encounter with Chloé, he accepts what has happened to him at face value.

Sceptical boy meme

At the very least I would be wondering about this Corelli guy and his powers to heal. I mean, one day Martín is dying from a brain tumour, the next morning he is miraculously cured because he promised a strange man to invent a religion for him. That would make anyone pause at least a beat, going “wait a second, what just happened?” But not our friend. He just accepts it as it is.

I celebrated my return to the world of the living by paying homage to one of the most influential temples in town: the main offices of the Banco Hispano Colonial on Calle Fontanella.

He deposits the money he has received from Corelli and then goes out to buy a newspaper. He reads in the newspaper that the offices of Barrido & Escobillas has been ravaged by fire, killing Barrido and seriously injuring Escobillas. He rushes over to the offices to find the firm’s secretary, who he always nicknamed Lady Venom. She tells him that Barrido and Escobillas were staying late the previous night as they were expecting a visitor. When pressed, Lady Venom can only say that the visitor was foreign.

Let me pause here to point out the nice convenient timing of this fire. Just as Martín has agreed to write a book for Corelli – and Corelli has promised him to deal with the publishers – the office burst into flames and the two publishers are dead and hurt.

Lady Venom wasn’t born yesterday either and comments:

‘We’ve lost everything, the archives, the contracts…everything. The publishing house is finished.’
‘I’m sorry Herminia.’
A crooked, malicious smile appeared.
‘You’re sorry? Isn’t this what you wanted?’
‘How can you think that?’
She looked at me suspiciously.
‘Now you are free.’

Yes, be careful what you wish for, Martín.

Martín leaves Lady Venom in her misery and goes outside where he is immediately accosted by a police inspector and two regular police men. They take him to a café and interrogate him as to his whereabouts the night before. They are naturally suspicious and question why he was having a meeting with another publisher when he was still under contract with Barrido & Escobillas. Martín doesn’t really have much to say and when the inspector, Víctor Grandes, confronts him with what he told Barridos & Escobillas when they visited him – namely that they would be dead within the week – he merely replies he didn’t mean what he said.

Martín leaves the interview not worried too much, because he is feeling too vital and alive.

Something told me that the tragedy of the previous night, including the death of Barrido and the very likely demise of Escobillas, should have filled me with grief and anguish, but neither I nor my conscience was able to feel anything other than a pleasant indifference.

I think that saying he should feel grief and anguish is going a bit far, there was never any love lost between him and the publishers. I don’t think any reader would expect him to be plunged into despair because of what happened.

Martin then pays a visit to Sempere and his son, who barely recognise him when he comes through their door.

‘Martin? Is it really you? […] You look completely different! I was so worried. We went round to you house a few times, but you didn’t answer the door. I’ve even been to the hospitals and police stations.’
His son stared at me in disbelief from the top of the ladder. I had to remind myself that only a week before they had seen me looking like one of the inmates of the local morgue.

Martín waves their questions away, and explains he went to the doctor who gave him some tonic and now he feels so much better, thank you. Why not tell them the truth, Martín? Since you are not worried about this Corelli business, why not share it with Sempere?

They talk a bit about Barridos and Escobillas and then Sempere asks Martín if he could do him a favour. Sempere has met a young girl who aspires to be a writer and who would like to be Martín’s assistant. She is apparently a very good writer, but Martín is reluctant. Sempere presses on though, explaining that if the girl doesn’t get some help with her writing, her parents will lock her up or marry her off to someone she doesn’t like. Eventually, reluctantly, Martín gives in.

Sempere smiled triumphantly and wanted to seal the pact with an embrace, but I escaped before the old bookseller was able to complete his mission of trying to make me feel like a good Samaritan.

dicaprio cheers

Yes, because heaven forbid Martín actually does something for a person who is not himself. Really, he has spent his whole life in selfishness so far, and even though Vidal helped him out of a sense of guilt, it is still thanks to the good Samaritan works of another person that Martín is where he is now. He may be bitter about life, but why is it such a task for him to help another human being?

The Angel’s Game read-along: Act One, Chapters 22-25

There is a lot to go through as I miscalculated my chapters, so we have 4 chapters to do until the end of Act One. Let’s dive right in.

Martín makes his way home from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, feeling awful. He goes home and takes a few codeine pills. He then notices a shifting of light under the main door, as if someone is at the door. He goes to investigate and finds an envelope on the floor.

Then I saw it. A cream-coloured envelope with a serrated edge. Someone had slipped it under the door. I knelt down to pick it up. The paper was thick, porous. The envelope was sealed and had my name on it. The emblem on the wax was in the shape of an angel with its wings outspread.

The letter is from Corelli, inviting Martín to a house he is staying at in Barcelona on “this coming Friday the 13th”. Martín basically thinks “whatever, I’ll be dead in seven days” and lies down on the sofa to sleep. However, he cannot sleep, so he gets out Cristina’s photo album and looks at the picture of Cristina along the jetty, holding the hand of a stranger. He then falls asleep.

Days are passing and Martín is hardly aware of his surroundings. At one point he goes outside for a walk, but he feels the presence of something menacing.

I could feel its fingers, long and pointed, hovering over my skin, and at that moment the young girl who only lived in the picture I held against my chest seemed to approach through the curtain of rain. She took me by the hand and pulled me, leading me back to the tower house.

When he finally wakes up again, it’s Friday the 13th. That day, Vidal and Cristina get married, a small affair, and Martín witnesses it from a distance. It upsets him a lot and he goes home to put an end to it all. He pulls out his father’s revolver and wants to kill himself, but something happens to stop him.

At that moment I felt a gust of wind whip against the tower and the study windows burst open, hitting the wall with a great force. An icy breeze touched my face, bringing with it the lost breath of great expectations.

Martín decides to go to the house Corelli has invited him to. It is supposed to be next to the entrance to Grüel Park. When Martín gets there, it doesn’t look like he is in the right place, and three large, black dogs come threateningly close to him. Just as he is trying to decide what to do – he is convinced the dogs will maul him – all the lights in a house turn on and scare the dogs away. Martín goes to the house.

As I climbed the stone steps I thought I noticed the outline of a figure leaning on one of the balustrades on the second floor, as still as a spider waiting in its web.

That is quite sinister.

Martín knocks on the door and it opens slightly. He goes inside and calls out his greeting, only to be met by total silence. He ventures further into the hall.

The walls were covered with framed photographs of different sizes. From the poses and the clothes worn by the subjects I assumed they were all at least twenty or thirty years old. At the bottom of each frame was a small silver plaque with the name of the person in the photograph and the year it was taken. I studied the faced that were observing me from another time. Children and old people, ladies and gentlemen. They all bore the same shadow of sadness in their eyes, the same silent cry. They stared at the camera with a longing that chilled my blood.

Very strange indeed. Even though Corelli is supposed to only be visiting from out of town (out of the country really), this house – and particularly these photographs – give the impression that the house belongs to Corelli. The only thing I stumbled on in the description was that Martín assumes all subjects in the photograph are twenty or thirty years old, but a few sentences later he describes them as “children and old people”. What age are they really?

Corelli sneaks up on Martín as he is studying the photographs, startling poor Martín. They go into the living room and Corelli pours Martín some wine. There make some small talk, but Martín is really not in the mood.

Listening to him it occurred to me that the only thing that could give me some satisfaction at that precise moment was to set fire to the whole world and burn along with it. As if he had read my thoughts, Corelli smiled and nodded, baring his teeth.
‘I can help you, my friend.’

Corelli is getting creepier by the moment.

Martín asks Corelli what he is doing there, and Corelli answers that Martín is there because of Corelli’s offer to pay him a hundred thousand francs to write a book. Martín feebly counters that he is under contract for five more years to write books for Barrido & Escobillas, but Corelli waves his worries away.

‘Don’t worry about lawyers. Mine are infinitely more litigious looking than the ones that couple of pustules use, and they’ve never lost a case. Leave all the legal details and litigation to me.’
From the way he smiled when he uttered those words I thought it best never to have a meeting with the legal advisors for Éditions de la Lumière.

Corelli finally gets to the point and tells Martín that he wants him to write a religion for him. Martín naturally starts laughing and tells Corelli he doesn’t know anything about religion. Corelli then makes some very interesting points.

‘Poetry aside, a religion is really a moral code that is expressed through legends, myths or any type of literary device in order to establish a system of beliefs, values and rules with which to regulate a culture or a society.’

Martín asks Corelli whether he really believes that doctrine is just a tale and Corelli tells him that everything is just a tale.

‘Are you not tempted to create a story for which men and women would live and die, for which they would be capable of killing and allowing themselves to be killed, of sacrificing and condemning themselves, of handing over their soul? What greater challenge for your career than to create a story so powerful that it transcends fiction and becomes a revealed truth?’

Although I don’t believe that all religion is just a tale, I do agree with the wider implications of saying that everything is just a tale. Everything has its own narrative and the person who controls that narrative holds the power. Look at how the media has manipulated the general public into thinking exactly what politicians want them to think. That is a bigger discussion for another time, but it is an interesting point in this book.

Martín still thinks Corelli is mad and he won’t have any part of creating a religion. But Corelli isn’t done yet.

‘You name the price. Do you want to set fire to the whole world and burn with it? Let’s do it together. You fix the price. I’m prepared to give you what you most want.’

Devil meme

Isn’t Martín a little bit worried that Corelli can evidently read his thoughts?

Corelli puts the hundred thousand francs in front of Martín on the table, but he does not pick it up. He refuses Corelli’s offer and tells Corelli that he is dying, there won’t be any time left for him to write a book.

‘Let’s say I was able to help you get over your illness,’ he said.
I stopped halfway down the corridor and turned round. Corelli was barely a metre away, staring straight at me. I thought he was a bit taller than when I’d first seen him, there in the corridor, and that his eyes were larger and darker. I could see my reflection in his pupils getting smaller as they dilated.

Corelli convinces Martín to come back to the living room with him and he sits back down in the arm chair. Corelli then asks Martín if he wants to live, and Martín realises then that he would do anything to stay alive.

‘I’m going to help you, Martín, my friend. All I ask of you is that you trust me. Accept my offer. Let me help you. Let me give you what you most desire. That is my promise.’
I nodded again.
‘I accept.’

Devil meme

Corelli tells Martín to have a rest and go home the next day. He promises Martín he will feel much better the next day.

Martín falls asleep in the arm chair and has a dream. He dreams that the house is filling up with water, but he doesn’t drown. He goes down into the basement of the house, where a group of people are gathered around an operating table. They strap him to the table and cut open his scalp. None of this hurts. And then follows a really gross description that I am going to share with you, because I had to read it too.

Two black filaments were emerging from the wound, creeping over my skin. It was a black spider the size of a fist. It ran across my face and before it could jump onto the table, one of the surgeons skewered it with a scalpel. He lifted it up so that I could see it. The spider kicked its legs and bled, silhouetted against the light. A white stain covered its carapace suggesting the shape of wings spread open. An angel.

I guess that represents Martín’s tumour being cured, as he then dreams that he goes back into the arm chair and when he wakes up again it’s midday and he feels better than he has in a very long time. The house is empty and all the doors are locked. Martín wants to go upstairs, but there is a dense darkness upstairs which prevents him from going there. On his way out, he notices that amongst the photographs on the wall, there is now an empty frame.

And we don’t really have to speculate much about who that frame is for, do we? It is clear – at least to me – that Martín has just sold his soul to the devil in order to live (have I made that clear enough?). I do wonder if he accepted Corelli’s offer only because he wanted to live, or also partly because he wants to write that book that will change people’s lives?

Thus ends Act One of The Angel’s Game.

The Angel’s Game read-along: Act One, Chapter 19-21

After watching his mother throw his book in the rubbish bin, Martín goes to Sempere. Sempere remarks that Martín is not looking well, and indeed, Martín is afraid that he might drop dead in the bookstore. He brushes Sempere off, however, saying that it is nothing. When Sempere’s son suggests that his blood sugar levels might be low, Sempere sends him out to get some pastries. Martín eats one reluctantly, but does feel better.

Martín soon reveals the reason for his visit.

‘Señor Sempere, do you remember, many years ago, when you said that one day I needed to save a book, really save it, I should come to see you?’
Sempere glanced at the rejected book I had rescued from the bun, which I was still holding in my hands.
‘Give me five minutes.’

Martín follows Sempere through the city until they come to a large wooden door in a run-down neighbourhood. Sempere tells Martín twice that he is not to reveal anything of what he is about to see. He stresses that Martín cannot tell even Vidal.

He then knocks on the door and it takes a while before it is opened. The keeper of the place, Isaac, is grumpy, but does allow Martín to enter. Sempere leaves him in Isaac’s care. Isaac brings him into the building and Martín is spellbound by what he sees.

cementary of forgotten books

There before me stood a colossal labyrinth of bridges, passages and shelves full of hundreds of thousands of books, forming a gigantic library of seemingly impossible perspectives. Tunnels zigzagged through the immense structure, which seemed to rise in a spiral towards a large, glass dome, curtains of light and darkness filtering through it. […] I couldn’t believe my eyes and I looked at last at Isaac Monfort in astonishment. He was smiling like an old fox enjoying his favourite game.
‘Ignatius B. Samson, welcome to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.’

I do like this description of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, as I like the idea of a place like that in and of itself. As Martín follows Isaac through the labyrinth, Isaac explains the rules to him. The first rule is obviously that he is not allowed to talk to anyone about it. The second rule is that he can choose one book, but once having chosen that book, he has to take care of it for life.

He then proceeds to give Martín a little history lesson of the place.

‘What you see here is the sum of centuries of books that have been lost and forgotten, books condemned to be destroyed and silences forever, books that preserve the memory and soul of times and marvels that no one remembers any more.’

According to Isaac, the Cemetery was built on the remains of palaces, churches, prisons and hospitals and that it has grown over time. Only a hundred people actually know of its existence, so I guess Martín is lucky to have Sempere as his friend, otherwise he would have never found out about it.

The third rule that Isaac gives Martín is that he can bury his book wherever he would like. Martín asks Isaac if anyone had ever gotten lost in the place and Isaac tells him the story of the historian Cymerman (which I keep reading as Cyberman, which would be an entirely different story). Cymerman apparently got lost in the labyrinth for a week and when they found him, he had surrounded himself with holy texts so he could not be seen by the man in black. Apparently some people have seen a man in black roam the passages of the Cemetary. Rumours say he is a deceased author whose book was not taken care of and he now roams the passages seeking revenge. Isaac offers another theory.

‘The man in black is the master of this place, the father of all secret and forbidden knowledge, of wisdom and memory, the bringer of light to storytellers and writers since time immemorial… He is our guardian angel, the angels of light and of the night.’

Martin does not much believe Isaac and he sets of into the labyrinth, looking for a place to bury his book. He finally finds the perfect space.

The walls were made of books and seemed quite solid except for a small gap that looked as if someone had removed a book from it. I decided that this would be the new home for The Steps of Heaven.

He reads the last paragraph of his book once more, then places the book in the gap. When he turns around, he sees that man in black. Except, that on further scrutiny, it is not the man in black, but a reflection of himself in the mirror.

What I saw in the reflection what my face and my skin, but the eyes were those of a stranger. Murky, dark and full of malice.

That is quite sinister. I never liked Martín, but I didn’t get the impression throughout the book so far that he was full of malice, so this observation is interesting. And out of character for Martín, so it is believable that he didn’t immediately recognised himself in the mirror. There is no explanation as to why there was malice in his eyes, considering he is there on fairly benign business, there is no reason for the malice. It is yet another puzzle piece that Carlos Ruiz Zafón throws at the reader.

Martín pulls himself together, and his eye falls on a book on the table. It’s called Lux Aeterna and the initials of the author are D.M. When Martín inspects the book, it looks to him like a mystical text.

The text was punctuated with numerals a verses, with the first words underlined, as if to indicate episodes or thematic divisions. The more I examined it, the more I realised it reminded me of the Gospels and catechisms of my school days.

Martín starts for the exit, but he then realises that he still has the book Lux Aeterna in his hands, even though he had not consciously chosen that book to take out of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

For a split second the idea crossed my mind that the book had a greater desire to leave the place than I did, that it was somehow guiding my steps.

Martín finds the front door again, but there is no sight of Isaac, so he leaves by himself.

Nice couple of chapters. Martín rescues his book as it will now not be published anymore, and although this is quite arrogant of him – to think that his book is worthy of getting a place in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books – something that the keeper also suggests, it is an understandable desire, especially since he does not have much longer to live and the chances of him writing another book are quite slim. It is interesting that he took that particular book with him, especially since he didn’t really want to pick that one out of the hundreds of thousands of books, but he does not leave it behind once he had some time to think about it, so perhaps it is important.

January stats

So, my stats for January. I only wrote on my book for 9 days in January, which is quite shameful. In total, I wrote 9,250 words on my book, which is far less than I would have liked, but it still came to a little over 1,000 average for the 9 days. I hope to try better this month.

I also wrote 9,737 words for my blog ( The Angel’s Game read-along posts, I am not counting any other posts). So overall my word count is better than it has been last year (not counting November), so that is something to be proud of at least.