I am a patient reader. I can cope with ambiguity and digression. I enjoy ornate prose and the occasional serving of melodrama. I don't need each and every element of a plot spelled out for me. This means that I loved (almost) every over-the-top melodramatic moment of the first in Carlos Ruiz Zafon's "Cemetery of Lost Books" series, [b:The Shadow of the Wind|1232|The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #1)|Carlos Ruiz Zafón|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1344545047s/1232.jpg|3209783]. Reading that novel, I was carried away to Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War and thoroughly enjoyed Ruiz Zafon's magical prose.
My overwhelmingly positive experience of The Shadow of the Wind means that I really looked forward to reading this novel. Set some twenty years before The Shadow of the Wind, it focuses on a young writer of sensationalist crime novels, David Martin, who is commissioned by a stranger to write a book and finds himself drawn into a nightmarish world where nothing is what it seems to be. It starts out well. Ruiz Zafon creates a sinister, threatening atmosphere within the architectural splendour of Barcelona. David Martin is an interesting character, as is the main antagonist, who may or may not be Lucifer incarnate. There are discussions of religion, the importance of books and reading and the nature of love.
However, it all falls apart at about the halfway point. There's too much ambiguity and digression and too much melodrama. By the end, I had no idea what was going on and what's worse, I didn't much care. I listened to the audiobook edition (which is very well narrated by Dan Stevens) and it occurred to me that my loss of both focus and interest may not have occurred had I been reading the novel rather than listening to it. But I'm not really convinced that's so.
It's not as if the novel has nothing going for it. The prose is great, the translation by Lucia Graves is excellent (at least, I assume it is, because it reads like a book written in English) and the threatening, rather Gothic atmosphere Ruiz Zafon creates jump off the page. Four stars for these aspects of the novel and two for the messy, confusing and overblown plot leaves an average of three.
I'll definitely go on to read the third book in the series, [b:The Prisoner of Heaven|13623012|The Prisoner of Heaven (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #3)|Carlos Ruiz Zafón|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1335994402s/13623012.jpg|18067409], if for no other reason than I'm hoping it will explain what this novel was all about. Thank you to Jemidar for accompanying me on the journey. The fact that both of us were confused makes me feel better.