Jennifer Astle

July 24, 2009

Book Review: The Angel’s Game By Carlos Ruiz Zafon

51nBUKGP-YL._SL500_AA240_I picked up The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon last week after a colleague recommended it, and settled in, somewhat skeptically, to give a new writer (by new, I mean one I had not read previously) a fair shot.  It had been described to me as a dark mystery by a writer who Stephen King recently raved about.  And as one of King’s Constant Readers, I trust his word more than I’d trust that of any clergyman.

I was not disappointed.

Zafon brought me down the familiar road of writers writing about writing, and into early 1900’s Barcelona and the life of David Martin.  Martin is a young boy working at a local paper, The Voice of Industry.  His early writing career is bestowed upon him by a young, charismatic benefactor who has a soft spot for the budding storyteller.

Later in his career, Martin enjoys enormous success writing trashy horror stories for an even trashier publication, run by sleazy publishers.  Writing under a pseudonym, Martin begins to dream about writing under his own name, and thus enjoying his success in his own right, a dream that his already successful (although a horrible writer) benefactor shares.  Thus begins Martin’s descent into darkness as a mysterious French publisher makes him an offer worth his soul.

On the surface, this is a typical story based on the competing notions of good and evil, light and dark, God and The Devil.  Zafon constructs the story in such a way that, beyond the title, there is little mention of God, and yet, one feels that there is an omnipotent force pulling the strings in the lives of David and those who are acquainted with him.  Yet, it is much more than that.  It steps further, leaving the reader questioning who is “good” and who is “evil”, and if in fact, they aren’t one and the same.

Underneath, if you look closely through the eyes of a young, struggling writer, you see a play on the insecurities of a writer who can gain thousands of readers under a ghost name (more than one, in fact), and yet cannot sell a single copy under his own.  It plays directly into the notion of literary publication being tantamount to immortality, shows exactly how desperate a writer can get, and delves into both the magic and consequence of a writer’s craft.  Much the same way that King attributes a power of their own to his characters, Zafon brings Martin, and what he writes to life.

When I closed the cover and replaced the sleeve I was left with two resounding thoughts; 1) Would I sell my soul to be published? and 2) I must visit Barcelona, and remember to bring a pen.

February 26, 2009

Book Review: Duma Key by Stephen King

200px-duma_keyI must admit up front that it is tremendously difficult for me to NOT like Stephen King’s writing. From the time I read Gerald’s Game at the age of thirteen (I highly doubt that 13 year olds were the target market for that particular book…), I was hooked.  Since then I could be considered what Mr. King refers to often as Constant Reader.

Duma Key is the story of Edgar Freemantle, a millionaire who loses his arm in a construction accident, and eventually moves to the Florida coast while he tries to rebuild his life.  During the course of his new self discovery, Edgar learns that he can paint.  However, those of you who know King know that there must be something supernatural behind his new found talent.

This is a good place to note that I read Duma Key directly off the heels of The Stand.  I’d always had The Stand on my bookshelf, but hadn’t gotten around to reading the 1000+ page behemoth.  Those of you familiar with the book know that a, if not the central protagonist is Abigail Freemantle, or Mother Abigail as she is more frequently referred to.  Coincidence?  The Dark Tower fans might not think so.

Back to Duma Key.  The first half of the book draws you in, as you witness Edgar advance from his hospital bed to a small art gallery where he is quickly becoming a local celebrity.  King describes the painting richly, and could convince the reader that he is a painter himself.

Edgar’s experience painting while living in “Big Pink”, an old beach house owned by Elizabeth Eastlake, the local eccentric and rich lady, inevitably evolves into something more sinister.  Without offering any spoilers, I say that when King discovered this aspect of the story, he could have gone in a completely different direction than the one Duma Key taken in the second half of the book .

That being said, the direction he does take is true Stephen King form; a mixture of personal and supernatural failures and triumphs, rooted as firmly in the human condition as it is in tales of ghosts and other menacing creatures.   There is, however, a moment in the book where you will find yourself scratching your head and saying “Where the hell is he going with this?”  If you can get through that part, you will be satisfied with the result, especially if you are fond of rainbow colored frogs with “teef”.

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