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.
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.’