mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #1) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves

1232Summary from Goodreads:
The international literary sensation, about a boy’s quest through the secrets and shadows of postwar Barcelona for a mysterious author whose book has proved as dangerous to own as it is impossible to forget.

Barcelona, 1945 – just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last one in existence. Before Daniel knows it his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love. And before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.

As with all astounding novels, The Shadow of the Wind sends the mind groping for comparisons—The Crimson Petal and the White? The novels of Arturo Pérez-Reverte? Of Victor Hugo? Love in the Time of Cholera?—but in the end, as with all astounding novels, no comparison can suffice. As one leading Spanish reviewer wrote, “The originality of Ruiz Zafón’s voice is bombproof and displays a diabolical talent. The Shadow of the Wind announces a phenomenon in Spanish literature.” An uncannily absorbing historical mystery, a heart-piercing romance, and a moving homage to the mystical power of books, The Shadow of the Wind is a triumph of the storyteller’s art.

I’ve been trying to finish The Shadow of the Wind for years. It was one of the first books to end up on my “Read My Own Damn Books” list. For some reason, I just couldn’t get any steam going to actually make headway in the book beyond the first few chapters.

Thanks to a combination of paper and audio book, I finally finished! Once I go into the meat of the study I really liked the labyrinthine plotting – even if it did slow the reading down. The recreation of the Spain and Barcelona of the Spanish Civil War and Franco was very atmospheric. The ending was both climactic (action!) and anti-climactic (because I’d guessed all the reveals since those bits were all very Victorian-Gothic-ish). And now I can read the rest of the books in the series.

Or at least try to – I may have three more entries in my list.

Dear FTC: I read my own trade paper copy and borrowed the audiobook via the library’s Overdrive site.

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mini-review · stuff I read

Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado

36345284Summary from Goodreads:
A highly anticipated debut by one of the most ferociously gifted young writers working today (Michelle Huneven)

In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.

Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

I finally made it to the top of the library holds list!!

I really loved Machado’s writing style and imagery. This is a really solid story collection of strange, unsettling, fairy-tale adjacent stories, very much in the vein of story collections I’ve loved this year (JagannathThe Heads of the Colored PeopleAll the Names They Used for God). The only exception was the extremely over-long and nonsensical central story “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order: SVU” which was somewhat boring and possibly doesn’t make sense unless you’re an SVU devotee (I’ve watched some episodes but definitely not very many).

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this book from the library.

mini-review · stuff I read

Worlds From the Word’s End by Joanna Walsh

34146471Summary from Goodreads:
This collection cements Joanna Walsh’s reputation as one of the sharpest writers of this century. Wearing her learning lightly, Walsh’s stories make us see the world afresh, from a freewheeling story on cycling (and Freud), to a country in which words themselves fall out of fashion—something that will never happen wherever Walsh is read.

“Joanna Walsh is clever, funny and merciless. She abducts people from their apparently normal lives and confronts them with the fact that dystopia is not a place in the future but a room in their own house.” —Yuri Herrera, author of Signs Preceding the End of the World

“Terrifyingly perceptive, subversively hilarious–these stories are part Daniil Kharms, part-Lydia Davis–while also managing to be singularly Joanna Walsh; how her writing always manages to make everything else I read (and write) seem specious and frivolous.” —Sara Baume, author of The Line Made by Walking

“Worlds from the Word’s End is an anti-mainstream collection. Joanna Walsh’s thick, blurred and claustrophobic worlds deal with deconstruction, estrangement, silence and the disappearance of common language. This is unconventional writing that is going to enchant unconventional readers.” —Dubravka Ugrešić, author of Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

I had never read Joanna Walsh’s books before, but I was intrigued by the pull quote and blurbs. Worlds From the Word’s End is a small literary short story collection that lies somewhere between Laura van den Burg and Sofia Samatar in tone. There are a couple of stories set in dystopias that seem just one or two clicks off from our own (one is a society that has gradually decided words/lanuage was passé so that was interesting). There are a couple about being a book person, particularly the third story.

There is one story, “Simple Hans”, that I really didn’t like and it felt out of place in the collection.

Dear FTC: I received a review copy of this book from the publicist.