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.