Monday, July 27, 2009

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

"But there are a lot of people with talent and passion, and many of them never get anywhere. This is only the first step in achieving anything in life. 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 artist is the work, the vocation and the technique. The intelligence you are born with is just ammunition. To achieve something with it you need to transform your mind into a high-precision weapon. Every work of art is aggressive...every artist's life is a small war or a large one, beginning with oneself and one's limitations. To achieve anything you must first have ambition and then talent, knowledge and finally the opportunity."
From "The Angel's Game" Carlos Ruiz Zafon

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

"Bascially you read thousands of pages to learn what you need to know and to get to the heart of a subject, to its emotional truth, and then you shed all that knowledge and start at square one...emotional truth is sincerity within fiction. One has to be not honest, but skilled. Emotional truth is not a moral quality, it's a technique...
Literature, at least good literature, is science tempered with the blood of art." Ibid

"God lives, to a smaller or greater extent, in books, and that is why (Senor Sempere) devoted his life to sharing them, to protecting them, and to making sure their pages, like our memories and our desires, are never lost. He believed, and he made me believe it too, that as long as there is one person left in the world who is capable of reading them and experiencing them, a small piece of God, or of life, will remain."

I was looking forward to the next novel by Zafon, author of the near-perfect "Shadow of the Wind" and anticipating another great page-turning gothic adventure about books and that wonderful creation, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books that everyone who read Shadow of the Wind longed to visit, myself included.

I was, therefore, surprised to discover that Angel's Game isn't about a passion for books or a love of them as much as it is about writing and art, obsession and love, religion and reality/belief.

The protagonist, David Martin, is a journalist who started writing sensational short stories for his local newspaper in Barcelona. He is so talented that his fellow journalists shun him out of jealousy, and he's eventually forced to leave. He then develops a pseudonym and churns out pulp noir fiction for a couple of crooked publishers who come off as clones of the opera house owners in Phantom of the Opera, clueless about art or literature, and only involved in book publishing for whatever profits they can gain from Martin under the auspices of his brutally enslaving contract.
Martin purchases an old house and takes on a teenage apprentice (mainly because she forces herself on him) and discovers "like a slow poison, the history of this place seeps into his bones as he struggles with an impossible love. Close to despair, David (Martin) receives a letter from a reclusive French editor, Andreas Corelli, who makes him the offer of a lifetime, (to create a religion.) In return, he will receive a fortune...but as David begins the work, he realizes that there is a connection between the book and the shadows that surround his home." excerpt quote from the jacket copy of Angel's Game

Though I believe the quotes above, about the nature of writing, I found myself saddened by the current of bitter cynicism that was woven throughout this novel. Perhaps it is because Zafon takes on religion and belief and their value to humanity (he obviously thinks that the bad aspects of religion, such as fanaticism and killing in the name of God, far outweigh whatever good religion brings to humanity)instead of just staying with the value of words, reading and writing to humanity. But whatever the reason, I found his references to Lucifer, the "bringer of light" and Gods favorite until the fall from grace, to be like a toxic gas that poisoned all the words that came after it with ugliness. Martin finds that anyone who has had dealings with Corelli, who it's intimated is Lucifer, has met with madness, death, disease and every other horror known to man. Yet, in his Faustian bargain, Martin manages to do what none of the previous writers have, in researching and creating a manuscript that will create a religion that will suit Corelli and his dark view of humanity as sheep needing to be used by those who are smarter/better than they are for nefarious purposes.
In agreeing to do this dark deed for Corelli, Martin in effect sells his soul, and spends the rest of the book madly searching for a way out of his bargain, and a way to win the love of his life, who is married to another man out of gratitude and not love.

There are more twists and turns in this tale than in the previous novel, and most of them are too convoluted to explain here. Suffice it to say that the nature of reality is questioned, and the reader is left wondering what is and isn't real or happening to Martin. Martin himself comes off as an arrogant jerk for much of the book, and he treats women, even the one he claims to love, with thinly veiled contempt, as if they're a lesser species by nature. The ending doesn't make a lot of sense, but if you're a cynic about life and belief, then you'll find it appropriate.

Zafon's prose, which was stellar in Shadow of the Wind, starts out strong in Angels Game and then gets a bit rough in the middle of the novel where most of the action takes place. It smooths out again in the end, but the plot stalls and nearly nosedives several times before Zafon pulls a rabbit out of his hat for the finale.

Though we do get to enter the Cemetery of Forgotten Books twice in Angels Game, I was still disappointed by this novel, and its ugly tone, mean-spirited and cruel male characters and selfish, stupid women characters. I would only recommend it to those who find the dark and cynical side of life and art amusing, and those journalists and novelists who have read Faust and feel that life imitates art.

No comments: