Review of The Angel's Game by

Book cover for The Angel's Game

Is Andreas Corelli the Devil?

This is the part of the review where I confess I remember almost nothing about The Shadow of the Wind or The Prisoner of Heaven, because that’s how my memory rolls. So I can’t say much about the interconnected nature of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. Instead, let’s look at The Angel’s Game on its own, as a suspenseful and literally literary thriller.

David Martín is an orphan who grows up to become a pulp thriller writer. But he seems marked for bigger things. He ghostwrites his best friend and benefactor’s novel, unbeknownst to that man, while trying and failing to sway the girl of his dreams into marrying him. When his own novel proves a flop, he resigns himself to dying of a brain tumour, forgotten and unmourned. But then a mysterious publisher shows up and promises to make all of David’s problems go away … and all David has to do is write a book. Well, a book that invents a new religion.

It sounds too good to be true, and David agrees. Although he starts working on this book, most of The Angel’s Game concerns David’s search for answers. And this is no straightforward mystery: everything seems to be connected to the tower house he rented, and it seems like history is repeating itself. The more David investigates, the more serious matters become. Ruiz Zafón mixes in murder and mayhem and madness for a truly delightful story. Given its length and a busier-than-usual week, The Angel’s Game took me slightly longer to read than I wanted—but I was never bored by it at any point.

David might be a hard narrator for some to warm to. He’s not all that likeable. Isabella makes the best criticisms of his character. She calls him selfish, which is accurate to an extent, though I think it’s more that he is unsure how to involve himself at times. He can be beneficent when he chooses, such as when he initiates the convoluted plan to get Isabella and Sempere Junior together. And he gives Ricardo Salvador that nudge to visit Dona Marlasca once again. Indeed, one might say that David is a veritable matchmaker, able to get everyone with someone else, except himself. His brief, tumultuous, ultimately tragic reunion with Cristina is perhaps one of the most heartbreaking parts of the book.

For the second time in a row I’m going to make an observation, and I’m not sure if it’s a compliment or a criticism (though this time, unlike last time, I mean for it to be a compliment). Ruiz Zafón is the poor man’s Umberto Eco. By this I mean that he shares a great deal with Eco in terms of style and literary motifs. Both enjoy writing about literature, both suffuse their literature with rich allusions to European history and events contemporary to their settings. The Angel’s Game has some similarities to Foucault’s Pendulum, my absolute favourite Eco book. (Both books are about how books can change the world, and if that is not an awesome theme, I don’t know what is.) Whereas Eco offers up a sumptuous repast steeped in medievalist philosophy and semiotics, however, Ruiz Zafón prefers to serve a sweeter, lighter fare. It’s not a question of one being superior or better quality, but they’re travelling in parallel. Basically, though, reading this just reminded me of how I should read an Eco book soon.

Is Andreas Corelli the Devil? The ending to this book is seriously strange. As with the other books in this series, The Angel’s Game eschews overt usage of magic. Zafón does keep us guessing, however, when it comes to David’s reliability as a narrator. Is Corelli even real, or is he a figment of David’s imagination—or a fragment of David himself? I’d opine that Corelli is indeed the Devil, that the eponymous angel is Lucifer, and David the latest victim of his game. Whether or not Corelli is “real” isn’t so much the salient point, because the effects of Corelli’s influence—from Cristina to Vidal to Senor Sempere and on—are very real. One might wonder if everyone would have been better off had David forsworn all involvement with them.

In this way, Ruiz Zafón delivers that most delightful of old-school tragedies: the kind where everything goes wrong for the protagonist, even his moments of triumph turning to ash in his mouth. The Angel’s Game is not an uplifting book; at times it is fucking depressing. But it is artful. It is magical, in its own way. It is a nice soak in the literary hot tub, if you know what I mean. I won’t compare it to the others, but if you liked the other books in this series, you will probably like this one.

Engagement

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