The Latest, though Not the Newest, from Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Marina: A Gothic Tale, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), 336 Pages

Carlos Ruiz Zafón is one of those writers whose names I type into search engines from time to time, just because I have hopes of discovering they’ve published a new novel I had somehow missed hearing about. I discovered Carlos Ruiz Zafón when his international best-seller, The Shadow of the Wind, was released in English. While Shadow was the first of his books released in the U.S., it’s actually his fifth novel. Given the success of Shadow, it’s not surprising that his earlier works have been emerging in English-language versions in recent years.

Zafón began as a writer of young adult novels (his first three novels) then successfully transitioned to adult novels (his fifth through seventh novels). Marina is the novel that bridged that transition, originating as a young adult title, but earning an equally substantial adult readership.

I’ve read Zafón’s other young adult novels because (see the first paragraph) I’m always eager for new work from him, but I’ll admit that I’ve found they pale in comparison to his later, adult works. Given its role as a transitional piece in Zafón’s oeuvre, it’s not surprising that Marina is significantly stronger than those early works, if not quite up to the standard he set in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, of which Shadow is the first volume.

If, like me, you’re aching for the promised fourth volume in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series to be released, Marina will help tide you over. It’s typical Zafón in both the best and the worst sense, but the best most decidedly outweighs the worst.

The worst?

• A female lead who is more emblematic than actual human being, whose motivations remain largely opaque throughout the work.

• A tendency to rely on long passages of summary narration in the voice of one character or another that keep readers at a distance from much of the action.

The best?

• A literary Barcelona redolent with the past, particularly the brutalities of the Franco era. Barcelona, both present and past, lives within the pages of his books, as much a character as any of the human figures.

• His ability to weave baroque plots, deftly drawing individual strands closer and closer together, and ending with deeply satisfying (if not always happy) conclusions.

His works, early and late, have a set of recurring tropes that are no doubt the subject of more than one PhD thesis: artificial and amputated body parts, particularly hands and eyes; hidden rooms smelling of death with odd arrangements of ephemera that really function as artistic installations of the mad; figures both satanic and angelic (and remember that Satan began his career as an angel); underworlds of various kinds (from submerged wrecks to sewage systems running beneath cities to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books—a storehouse of books without readers existing in a sort of suspended animation while waiting for champions to bring them to public attention).

Marina is the only book with Gothic in its title, but they’re all Gothic.

Bottom line? I’m still waiting for volume four in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. Marina wasn’t enough to assuage that longing. But Marina is a fine read, substantial, complex—good company while awaiting that next truly new volume.


Note: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions are my own.

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