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.