The Angel’s Game read-along: Act Two, Chapters 15-17

On the way home from the bookshop, Martín stops in at a stationery shop and buys a set of nibs, an ivory pen and an ink pot for Isabella. But when he comes home, he finds the corridor dark and Isabella in the room all the way at the end, the room he had locked. He tries to tell her to leave the room, but she calls him in, showing him some letters and photographs she found in the drawers. Apparently the house used to belong to a man Diego Marlasca. Isabella then asks,

‘Don’t you think it’s odd?’
‘That his initials are the same as yours: D.M.’
‘It’s just a coincidence; tens of thousands of people in the town have the same initials.’

Martín may think he’s fooling Isabella, but he is not fooling me here. He does think it’s odd.

It gets even more odd. Among the pictures, Isabella has found a picture of an actress who was famous when Martín was a boy. She is posing in the house, so she must have been at least acquainted with Diego Marlasca. When Isabella puts the pictures away, one falls out. When Martín picks it up, he recognises a face in the crowd of people in the picture – Andreas Corelli. This disturbs him very much, and he roughly tells Isabella to pack everything away and for her to call a charity to pick up all the things the next day.

Following that incident, Martín goes up to his study. There is no mention of him giving his gift to Isabella, so maybe he forgot that in the consternation. As Martín sits at his desk, he realises he better make a start on Corelli’s book.

I asked myself if this was what the boss had seen in me, a mercenary mind with no qualms about hatching a narcotic story fir for sending small children to sleep, or for convincing some poor hopeless devil to murder his neighbour in exchange for the eternal gratitude of some god who subscribed to the rule of the gun.

Martín doesn’t really have any inspiration, but he practises what he preached to Isabella earlier and he sits down and starts cranking out words.

I find it interesting that Martín now refers to Corelli as ‘the boss’. It’s almost as if he wants to distance himself from Corelli, making Corelli less personal.

When Martín meets up with Corelli, Corelli is very much taken with the approach Martín has taken. Martín has started with a warrior messiah. When Corelli asks why, Martín launches into a rambling explanation about how males peak earlier than females.

‘A young man is the perfect soldier. He has great potential for aggression and a limited critical capacity – or none at all – with which to analyse it and judge how to channel it. Throughout history, societies have found ways of using this store of aggression, turning their adolescents into soldiers, cannon fodder with which to conquer their neighbours or defend themselves against their aggressors. Something told me that our protagonist was an envoy from heaven, but an envoy who, in the first flush of youth, took arms and liberated truth with blows of iron.’

Corelli seems impressed and asks a few more questions, for example how women fit into the whole narrative. Martín is quite dismissive about that.

‘The main pillar of every organised religion, with a few exceptions, is the subjugation, repression, even the annulment of women in the group. Woman must accept the role of an ethereal, passive and maternal presence, never of authority or independence, or she will have to take the consequences.’

I really had hoped Martín would do something radical, such as give women a place of power in his made up religion, but who was I kidding?

Corelli approves of the manuscript so far and of the direction Martín wants to take. He tells Martín he will need to be out of town and they then part ways. Martín muses for a bit, hoping that Corelli has taken the bait and swallowed the story Martín had spun for him. Martín has decided he needs time to figure out how deep in trouble he really is.


The Angel’s Game read-along: Act Two, Chapter 13 and 14

All right, another two chapters. I feel like I am slowly drowning in this book, but I will persevere. At least it is good to see that there were actual reasons why I didn’t really like the book the first time I read it. I know lots of people praise it to high heaven, but I just can’t get over how much I dislike Martín and I don’t think that was the author’s intention.

Onwards. Martín is moaning and complaining about having a woman in the house. A seventeen year old girl really who keeps annoying him with her chatter. He doesn’t harbour kind thoughts towards her, from wanting to strangle her to deciding he needs to find her a boyfriend. And just right there my estimation of Martín takes another plunge. I don’t care what the rituals around finding a suitable partner were around that time, but I find it very presumptuous of Martín to think that 1) Isabella needs a boyfriend, and 2) that it is up to Martín to “find her one”.

So he not-so-subtly asks her why she does not have a boyfriend. She counters by saying that she likes older men, men like Martín. And she asks him if he likes younger girls. Martín gets uncomfortable by this and tells her that is the end of the argument and she should go and write. So it was all right for him to question her lack of partner, but when she turns the tables and makes it about him, he suddenly wants to stop the conversation? How convenient.

Isabella says she doesn’t have any inspiration to write. That might be why she is cleaning the house like a madwoman, always bothering Martín. I was just wondering why she wasn’t doing what she was there for. Martín gives her a little pep talk in inspiration.

‘Inspiration comes when you stick your elbows on the table, your bottom on the chair and you start sweating. Choose a theme, an idea, and squeeze your brain until it hurts. That’s called inspiration.’

I consider myself called to order by this as well.

Isabella tells Martín she wants to write about him and she then asks about his own progression on his book. Martín tells her that he is still at the research stage. Martín tells her he is still trying to get to ‘the heart of the subject, to its emotional truth’. Isabella asks him what emotional truth is.

‘It’s sincerity within fiction.’
‘So, does one have to be an honest, good person to write fiction?’
‘No. One has to be skilled. Emotional truth is not a moral quality, it’s a technique.’
‘You sound like a scientist,’ protested Isabella.
‘Literature, at least good literature, is science tempered with the blood of art. Like architecture or music.’
‘I thought it was something that sprang from the artist, just like that, all of a sudden.’
‘The only things that spring all of a sudden are unwanted body hair and warts.’

Nice passage, and I think there is a lot of truth in what Martín tells Isabella.

Isabella brings the conversation around to Corelli again and she once again asks Martín what he is writing. He finally gives in and tells her he is writing a fable, a legend. Isabella asks him if he is writing it because of the money, but Martín says he is writing it because he has to, he owes Corelli.

Eventually Martín sends her away to go and write. Isabella hesitates, then tells him she likes being his assistant.

The girl was staring at me as if her life depended on a kind word. I yielded to temptation. Good words are a vain benevolence that demand no sacrifice and are more appreciated than real acts of kindness.

dicaprio cheers 2

So Martín says some empty, meaningless kind words, and Isabella leaves his room mollified. I guess Isabella is a real teenager – one time moody, the next almost manically cheerful, then sulky, then snarky – but it is really getting on my nerves and I can see why Martín doesn’t really like her. He feels sorry for her, but he doesn’t like her.

The next chapter opens with Martín going to a bookshop to get a Bible. He goes to Gustavo Barceló’s bookshop and we are somehow supposed to know or remember who this person is. Now, admit I am terrible with names in books, but the only bookseller I remember is Sempere. Maybe a one sentence (re-) introduction would not have been amiss.

Barceló is happy to see Martín and comments on his appearance.

‘Next to you, Valentino looks like someone just back from the salt mines.’

So did Martín become more good-looking as part of his deal with Corelli?

The bookseller is surprised to hear Martín wants a Bible, but calls for his assistant.

‘Dalmau, our friend Martín here needs a Bible that is legible, not decorative. I’m thinking of Torres Amat, 1825. What do you think?’
One of the peculiarities of Barceló’s bookshop was that books were spoken about as if they were exquisite wines, catalogues by bouquet, aroma, consistency and vintage.

Sounds like my kind of bookshop!

While Damau is digging up a suitable Bible for Martín, Barceló tells Martín that he was recently in Paris and made some enquiries about Corelli’s publishing company, Éditions de la Lumière. Apparently Sempere has asked him to. He has found out that the publishing company was established in 1881 and closed down in 1914, apparently because of a fire. Corelli retired to the country, was bit by a viper and died.

Of course Martín cannot believe this information. He has seen Corelli not that long ago, so how can he be dead? Of course he does not tell Barceló any of that.

Barceló had been talking to an old enemy of Corelli’s who was mad at Corelli for stealing one of his authors, Lambert.

‘Lambert was a terminal opium addict and had accumulated enough debts to pave Due de Rivoli from end to end. Coligny suspected that Corelli had offered Lambert an astronomical sum and that the poor man, who was dying, had accepted it because he wanted to leave his children well provided for.’

Sounds like a familiar situation.

Barceló goes on to tell Martín that the book Corelli asked Lambert to write for him was a religious text. Lambert had a fit of madness and set fire to the manuscript, himself and the offices of the publishing company.

‘A lot of people thought the opium had frazzled his brains, but Coligny suspected that it was Corelli who had pushed him towards suicide.’

Barceló is discounting Coligny’s story, especially since Coligny had warned Barceló to stay away from Corelli, even though he also told Barceló that Corelli was dead, but Martín is not so confident that it was just the ravings of a madman.

As I walked away from the shop a cold anxiety began to invade me and I had the feeling that the streets and my destiny were set on nothing but quicksand.

The Angel’s Game read-along: Act Two, Chapters 11 and 12

Martín leaves his house as he is annoyed about Isabella cleaning his house. He wants to research religions, so he goes to the library to do so. He is planning to immerse himself in the texts –

anything rather than think about Cristina, Don Pedro and their life as a married couple.

Maybe it’s because I read this book so slowly at the moment, but Martín’s feelings for Cristina feel very inconsistent. It is almost as if the two plots of the book – his love for Cristina and his dealings with Corelli – are two separate stories, one not having anything to do with the other. And two different Martín’s experiencing them.

Martín asks Isabella to help him with his research by finding catechisms and school books and writing summaries of them. Isabella asks him whether this is for the book he is writing for Corelli and Martín tries to cut her short. Isabella remarks – rather snarkily –

‘I get the feeling it’s not a book that will have much commercial scope.’

I thought Isabella wanted to be a writer herself, I am surprised she cares much about the commerciality of a book. Martín apparently thinks so too, as he says,

‘In commercial art – and all art that is worthy of the name is commercial sooner or later – stupidity is almost always in the eye of the beholder.’
‘Are you calling me stupid?’
‘I am calling you to order. Do as I say.’

If you have been following the read-alongs, you know I don’t usually agree with Martín, but in this instance, I do. I find Isabella increasingly more annoying. She is probably a typical teenager – full of herself and very presumptuous.

Martín goes back to the library and he builds a connection with the librarian there, Eulalia. He discusses with Eulalia that the texts he has been reading are exceedingly boring and that most religions are very similar. Eulalia confesses to Martín she is trying to write a book, along the lines of Ignatius B. Samson. Martín does not give away that he is Ignatius B. Samson, but Eulalia already knows.

The chat a bit about religion and Eulalia makes a remark that indicates she was raised by nuns. Marín asks,

‘Is it true what they say, that girls from convent schools are the ones who harbour the darkest and most unmentionable desires?’
‘I bet you’d love to find out.’
‘You can put all chips on “yes”.’

Has Cristina been forgotten so soon, or is Martín just perpetually horny and it doesn’t matter to him who is willing to sleep with him?

Later, Eulalia remarks,

‘A shame I didn’t meet you when I was a school girl with dark desires.’
‘You’re cruel, Eulalia.’
The librarian laughed heartily, looking me in the eyes.
‘Tell me, Ignatius B., who has broken your heart and left you so angry?’

I wonder why Eulalia concluded that he broke his heart and that he is angry. Nothing in the exchange above – which read as quite flirty from both sides – indicated that Martín is angry or bitter or suffering from a broken heart.

A little later, Martín is done at the library and says goodbye to Eulalia.

At dinner, Martín is distracted and Isabella keeps bothering him with questions.

‘Why are you so sad? Is it because of that woman?’
I went on stirring my soup. Isabella didn’t take her eyes off me.
‘Her name is Cristina,’ I said, eventually. ‘And I am not sad. I’m pleased for her because she’s married my best friend and she’s going to be very happy.’
‘And I’m the Queen of Sheba.’
‘You’re a busybody, that’s what you are.’
‘I prefer you like this, when you’re in a foul mood, because you tell the truth.’
‘Then let’s see how you like this: clear off to your room and leave me in peace.’

Isabella leaves the table, cleans up her plate and goes to her room to sulk and cry. What did she expect? Martín is already not happy to have her there, and she somehow feels it’s her right to probe into his deepest feelings and tease him when he tries to shut her out. I don’t blame Martín for telling her to go to her room, she should mind her own business.

After that delightful interlude, Martín goes to his study – which has been immaculately cleaned by Isabella – and finds a summons from Corelli. He has to meet Corelli on the top of the main tower of the cable railway on Saturday.

Martín is afraid of heights, so the trip to the tower and the cable railway is not his favourite trip. Corelli asks him what he has been up to, and Martín tells him about the boring research he has been doing. Corelli commends him and then suggests that Martín leaves the theologists alone and go straight to the sources. He recommends Martín to read the Bible.

Martín confesses that he doesn’t really know anything.

‘Follow that path and you will find the footsteps of the great philosopher. And along the way read the Bible from start to finish. It’s one of the greatest stories ever told. Don’t make the mistake of confusing the word of God with the missal industry that lives off it.’
The longer I spent in the company of the publisher, the less I understood him.
‘I’m quite lost. We were talking about legends and fables and now you’re telling me that I must think of the Bible as the word of God?’
A shadow of impatience and irritation clouded his eyes.
‘I’m speaking figuratively. God isn’t a charlatan. The word is human currency.’

That does not make it any more clear, but it is interesting that Corelli talks about God as if he knows Him. Martín is none the wiser about what Corelli thinks, but he is slightly distracted by the cable car swaying. He doesn’t quite feel safe and Corelli teases him about it.

Martín tells Corelli his findings – that the religious texts didn’t teach him much apart from that most religions are similar. Corelli asks Martín,

‘Tell me, are you interested in fables?’
‘When I was small, for about two months I wanted to be Aesop.’
‘We all give up great expectations along the way.’
‘What did you want to be as a child, Señor Corelli?’
He leered like a jackal, wiping the smile off my face.

Devil meme

Corelli then tells Martín that fables are better at conveying a religion, as humans learn better through fables and stories than through lessons. He instructs Martín to now concentrate on fables – Brothers Grimm, Greek mythology and Celtic legends. He orders Martín to take three weeks and then come up with the beginning of a story for him.

‘I want you to make me believe.’
‘I thought we were professionals and couldn’t commit the sin of believing in anything.’
Corelli smiled, baring his teeth.
‘One can only convert a sinner, never a saint.’

Very interesting indeed, Corelli is getting more and more mysterious.

Genres – or: Who am I kidding?

Well, February was a very bad month for me writing-wise. In fact, I didn’t write anything at all, except for my blog and even that was painful. I did do a lot of crocheting though, I finished a baby blanket and started a giant granny square afghan, so I have not been completely devoid of creativity this month.

However, I think I have found the problem with my book. I was just stuck, the story was getting boring and if the writer is bored, the reader is going to be extremely bored. I didn’t know how to fix it and I lost faith in my story. Now, if this were November and I was in the middle of NaNoWriMo, I would have just kept writing at all costs, but since I didn’t have that deadline looming, I just didn’t write at all. Not the best decision, but there we are.

Anyhow, I think I am just trying to be too artistic and literary with my book. I wanted to write realistic fiction and I think I was just kidding myself. I am really not that good a writer. I clearly can’t write a whole novel based on character development alone, I felt like my main character was just getting too whiny and annoying. Not good! I think things would improve a whole lot more if my characters actually fell in love and we can go from there. There is always this prejudice against chick lit, but I think that is exactly what my story is. I was just too snobby to recognise it and in the process, I almost killed my story (and my will to continue with it).

So I apologise if I have gone down in your estimation by confessing that I will probably write a chick lit book, although if you’re the type of person who turns their nose up at chick lit, then boo to you. I have already decided that I am not going to be a published writer – I just don’t have the time to try and get my story published, let alone publish and market it myself –  so I am going to write for myself. Maybe I will at some point share it with someone, but as long as I only write it for myself, I will take more risks with it and go with where it wants to go regardless of whether that is the “respected” path.

So, to use a Seinfeld quote: “I’m back, Jerry, I’m back!”

The Angel’s Game read-along: Act Two, Chapters 9 and 10

Martín is driven home from Corelli’s place by a man in an ancient Rolls Royce. Very appropriate as the symbol of a Rolls Royce is an angel. As Martín leaves the car and walks to his home, he contemplates his situation.

I asked myself what I had done, and, choosing not to seek an answer, I set off towards my house feeling as if the whole world was a prison from which there was no escape.

So reality seems to finally be catching up with our hero. The euphoria of the money and his renewed health has worn off and Martín realises just how much trouble he could be in. But he chooses not to examine the situation too closely.

He comes home and opens the windows of his study, as it is a very hot night. Looking out over the city, he notices a girl sleeping on a doorstep in an alley. It’s Isabella. He also notices two men advancing on her. Martín does not really want to have anything to do with Isabella – or with the whole situation really – but even he realises that if he doesn’t do anything, the men will assault Isabella. So he goes downstairs and scares them off with a metal bar. He is willing to use the bar on the men and the one man immediately backs off. The other is still trying to scare Martín off with a knife, but when he realises Martín is not afraid to use the metal bar, he also backs off.

Martín takes Isabella to his house, makes her a bath and something to eat and puts her in bed. The following morning he goes to see her parents. Isabella had told Martín that her father wanted to kill Martín, so Martín goes in with a bit of an attitude, but it is soon apparent that the poor father is very worried about Isabella. Apparently Isabella had run away from home, as she felt that her parents didn’t understand her. It does not paint a very nice picture of Isabella at all, as her parents clearly love her and are worried for her.

Isabella’s mom is particularly worried. She tells Martín,

‘Only last night, just round the corner from here, two labourers on their way home were given a terrible beating. Imagine! It seems they were battered with an iron pole, smashed to bits like dogs. One of them might not survive, and it looks like the other one will be crippled for life.’

Now, why do I feel a chill down my spine?

Martín promises Isabella’s parents that he will keep Isabella safe and give her a place to live in his big house. He is determined to drive her away by being very cynical and strict and when he gets back to his house, he immediately lays down the law with her.

‘You can stay here under the following conditions: one, that you go and spend some time in the shop every day, to say hello to your parents and tell them you’re well; and two, that you obey me and follow the rules of this house.’

When Isabella questions what the rules of the house are, Martín simply says ‘Whatever I damn well please.’

Isabella hugs him and goes off to tidy Martín’s study.

I can’t figure Martín out, he clearly doesn’t want to have anything to do with Isabella, but he does promise her parents he will keep her safe and will look after her. We know from the previous chapters (we’re now almost halfway in the book) that Martín is not particularly altruistic, so why he takes Isabella on is a mystery. He does say he is determined to drive her away, so that is more in character for him. We’ll see how that all evolves.

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.

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.

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.