When I first leafed through The Prince of Mist, I was struck by the non-Spanishness of the characters’ names. I even went so far as to ask the publisher if they had been translated in the translation. They haven’t, it seems, though they didn’t know, so had to check it for me.
I actively want my foreign, translated books to taste of the place they came from. So I’m wondering why Carlos Ruiz Zafón decided to go so ‘neutral’ in The Prince of Mist. He is a big name in the book world now, and with translations left, right and centre, blandness might make sense. But he wasn’t big then. It’s nearly twenty years since he wrote this book, and it’s only published here now, after his success with a number of adult books.
The setting is also strangely neutral. I’m assuming it has to be the northwest of Spain, but it doesn’t feel like it. It doesn’t feel like anything, much. The careless reader might see it as England. Maybe it is. Am I fussy, in wanting to know? Sometimes vague and neutral works. Here I would really like to be able to visualise better.
And it’s timeless. Apart from any pun imagined, because it features a watchmaker, and the clocks go funny, I need a sense of time, too. Yes, I know it’s set in WWII. Doesn’t feel like it.
The Prince of Mist is a book of horror. Creepy cat moves in with Max’s family when they relocate to the seaside. Near the new house he finds a garden full of creepy statues, and one of them is a clown. It’s thundery the whole time. There is an old man with a secret, and the house they live in has a ‘past’. Parents and younger sister are removed by something fairly unlikely, leaving Max and older sister Alicia alone.
For me this plot doesn’t work. It’s fantasy, so doesn’t have to. But it still doesn’t. On the other hand, the Resident IT Consultant, who grabbed the book first, thinks highly of it. I feel it reads like the first novel that it is. Point of view keeps changing in a wobbly fashion. And other than being freaked out by the cat, I had no interest in the characters.