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.
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.