The Labyrinth of the Spirits
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 2016 (English translation 2017), The Text Publishing Company, ISBN 9-781925-603927, 805pp
“And what do I do with this, aside from using it to practice (sic) shooting poodles? Make sure nobody practises on you.” In 800 pages this quote contains the only fault that I can find with this book. In Australian (and British) English the verb is “to practise”. It is the Americans who use “practice” for both noun and verb. Let us suppose that this is the fault of the translator and the editor. It cannot be the fault of Carlos Ruiz Zafón for he wrote in Spanish. Perhaps we should not blame the translator for she is Lucia Graves who is the daughter of the poet Robert Graves.
This is a massive book by any standards coming in at a whisker over 800 pages. It is the fourth in the The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, each also translated into English by Lucia Graves, that includes (in order) The Shadow of the Wind (2004), The Angel's Game (2009), and The Prisoner of Heaven (2011). Although the four novels are a series, they are independent and can be read in any order. I am fortunate, perhaps, to have read the four as they were published. You could read them chronologically aligned to their subjects; if so you would read Prisoner, Angel, Shadow with Labyrinth straddling all of them. I did not know, but I do now, that there is a short story that is part of the series. This is The Rose of Fire and in theory it is a free download but I could not get the link to work.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón tells a good story that moves along quickly. The plot could hardly be described as simple. There are more threads than you would find in finely woven cotton. Daniel Sempere and his wife Bea and their friend Fermín appear in this book, as they have appeared in the previous three together with the author Julián Carax. They are joined here, in this final instalment of the series, by Alicia who is a police agent in Spain’s fascist era. The novel is set against the backdrop of fascist Spain in a way that makes me want to find out more about a political backdrop that lasted from 1939 into my lifetime with the death in 1975 of Franco.
A short summary of the plot is that Alicia is charged with discovering what has happened to Don Mauricio Valls who is the culture minister in the Franco administration and who has disappeared. As you would suppose in 800 pages there is more to it than that. Ruiz Zafón’s story is well told for all its complexity, you just need to know that you are up for 800 pages. You probably also need to ensure that your biceps are up for the challenge of reading it. If you have a habit of reading in bed and falling asleep then you may be in for serious injury. There are several points in the book that give one pause for reflection. I rather liked the assertion that “a legend is a lie that has been whipped up to explain a universal truth.”
The title of the series The Cemetery of Forgotten Books betrays the fact that books play a central part in the plots of all four novels. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books is the place where books go when libraries disappear or when a bookshop closes. When a book is consigned to oblivion its guardians ensure it gets to the cemetery. In this novel, The Labyrinth of the Spirits, I found that Ruiz Zafón’s view of books accords with my own. He says “books that are lost in time live forever waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands. In the shop we buy and sell them but in truth books have no owner. Every book … [is] ... someone's best friend”.
If you are up for 800 pages and a good read, then go for this one. The previous three books are about 1,400 pages between them so if you enjoy Ruiz Zafón, then you are in for some prolonged entertainment.