‘The Angel’s Game’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: Book Review
The Angel’s Game is the second book in ‘The Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ series by internationally acclaimed writer Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I read this book last week and it is the first book I have read by this astoundingly brilliant author. This book had been lying on my TBR shelf right since 2016. I can’t believe that it took me this long to reach out for this book and read it. But to tell you the truth, I knew that I would enjoy Carlos Ruiz Zafon and so, I was trying to wait until I was free enough to read the book at one go. I have a lot of his books in various places in my collection but I always wanted to read The Angel’s Game first. I was not disappointed. This book was the best book, after the Holy Bible, that I have read this year 2020.
It is easy to read it as a stand-alone book, though it is a part of the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ series penned by Zafon. The story of the young and vulnerable David Martin who works for ‘The Voice of Industry’ newspaper and is suddenly brought into the spotlight is a roller-coaster ride. There are so many underlying literary books and works that make up The Angel’s Game that makes it certainly a true work of art. There are references to:
- Faust by Goethe
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
- The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
- The Works of H. P. Lovecraft
The story is enchanting, artistic. and very much a literary fiction with the pulse of a thriller. It’s been a long while since I’ve read a book which is literary fiction at the heart but is penned so full of suspense that is required to fuel a thriller. I won’t say I liked the protagonist at the end of the story. I disliked him to a great extent; David Martin is not someone I could like a lot. I admire his persistence to write despite all the odds against him. I admire his resilience when his lover Christine marries his best friend Vidal; when his book fails while a book he has written for Vidal succeeds; when he realizes that Christina has always used him, and so on. But still, Martin who endears himself to us at the beginning of the book, especially with the torturing love-hate relationship he had with his father, suddenly makes us dislike him because he doesn’t question the reality of what is happening to him.
However, I think that is the point Zafon makes in The Angel’s Game. It is the story of the imagination that has no firmness in reality and which resides within all of us; some of us reject its lures and stay adrift while others give into it totally and sink into madness.
The story is about a commission for a book, a tower with a past, a devilish hand in everything that the protagonist does to go on with his sad life, and a mystery man who reminds us a lot of the mystery men in the books of Charles Dickens and a mystery women in the books of Wilkie Collins. There is a lot of thrilling elements to this story and some parts which are terrifyingly scary. They all are shown in light of how a person in the post World War One era would have looked at the world and its pensive reality.
The Angel’s Game is a lovely title which is indicative of the brooch the infamous and surreal Andreas Corelli used to wear on his shirt whenever he had a meeting with Martin. Corelli commissions Martin to write a book of a ‘religion’ which he would like to ‘use’ in the future. Again, a reference to ‘an angel’s work’ to create a religion.
I loved the character of Andreas Corelli and the pearls of wisdom that he gives to the very dazed Martin. If for nothing else, please read this book for the rich dialogues between Martin and Corelli. They are excellent philosophical and ethical material in prose form. It’s a sheer joy to read and ponder over them. For example, when Martin asks Corelli what he thought about religion and existence, Corelli simply states that it is all connected to very selfish biology. We all have to live in this world, whether we like it or not. To aid us in living, our nervous system and our religion conditions our minds to live in imaginary states even while we claim to be ‘living in reality’. We work at our jobs thinking we are the center of focus when in reality no one cares; but by us thinking we are at the focus of life in the office, we give ourselves the boost to go through the day. We always ‘imagine’ ourselves to be a central focus when truly we are not. Even in religion, our religion is pure biology. We, as a defense mechanism, see ourselves as a very important figure in God’s eyes, whereas, we are just one among many to meet a common end. After we die, our mind dies with us, the importance we gave to ourselves dies with us, and our defense mechanisms to make ourselves seem greater than we die with us. And the world goes on without us and we are forgotten.
“For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.” —Ecclesiastes 9:5
But it is our religion, our culture, and the imaginary realms we create in our minds and subconscious selves about our reality, that makes us believe that there is a reason for everything that happens to us. We need to believe in something as biological animals so that we can do what we as organisms have been doing since the beginning of time – survival of the fittest. And our minds will condition us to do so, our biological makeup can even twist religion to make us do so.
“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” —1 Thessalonians 4:14
This is just one example of the many astonishingly philosophical ideas mentioned by Corelli in this book. This shows that we are in good hands with Zafon who will not only entertain us with this book but also stimulate our minds to think in the way his characters think and interpret reality.
I loved the book to bits. I loved the character of Isabella, and I’m sure you will love her too. She is the only voice of reason in this book, and the stabilizing force in the dreamy headed Martin’s life. Though she is as precocious as a seventeen-year-old bookish girl can be, she is an ‘angel’ in the life of Martin which makes us as readers want and yearn that they land up together.
The book is a feast for the mind for those of us who love books about books. The Angel’s Game is focused on reading, writing, publishing, and everything else bookish that will make you forget yourself and sink into this world of a dimming reality. I loved the parts in this book about ‘Sempre and Sons’ the bookshop which made Martin into the famous writer he became. A good bookshop in one’s childhood is very important to make a child love books. That is what the Senior Sempre did for Martin. Sempre even introduced Martin to the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’. Senior Sempre was a father to Martin more than his father was. I too have had many father figures in the form of bookshops and library owners as well as bookshop managers and salesmen who have made me the writer, teacher, and publisher I am today. You can check out my memoirs The Reclusive Writer & Reader of Bandra and Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai to know more about that.
I loved the intensity of the book. I loved some of its characters and despised others, mostly the villains. The ending made me weep and even two days after finishing the book, I simply still can’t get over it.
Do yourself a favor and buy this book on your Kindle today. I highly recommend this book to all lovers of literature and everything bookish out there. If you are looking for a racy literary fiction book that is not too heavy, then read this book. If you are looking for a book to curl up with while the rain pours outside, then this is a cozy but intellectual book that you should read. And if you are looking for something enchanting, romantic, and on crime, then pick up your copy of The Angel’s Game today.
I hope you will enjoy the book. I am getting ready to pick up the other Zafon books on my TBR bookshelf and will read them this month during the monsoons. If you are interested in more book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, then you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you want to buy my books then you can check out my website fizapathanpublishing.us and fizapathan.com. Happy reading to you always!
Copyright © 2020 Fiza Pathan
A most interesting and detailed review of this book, Fiza. I hope you are well.
Hello Ma’am. So far we are all fine by the grace of God. God bless. Fiza 🙂