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.

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