Tag Archives: Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Revisiting two Indian tales

So far I’ve been feeling strangely apologetic whenever books set in India or about India feature a lot of British people and plotlines. But when you think about it, you can’t remove something that was once reality, however wrong it might have been. And I’m guessing it’s not just authors from other countries who like writing about what used to be.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Midnight Palace

Two novels that made a lasting impression on me are Bali Rai’s City of Ghosts and The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. From similar periods, 1919 and 1932 respectively, they are modern and ancient at the same time. Both have a super-natural element to them; something that can’t be explained but still seems quite normal.

The only thing that would define these novels as being Young Adult is that their main characters are teenagers. Both are about growing up and about coming to terms with what has happened in the past. Both are strong on friendship.

Bali Rai, City of Ghosts

There is sacrifice in both books as well. In City of Ghosts we have the Indian soldier who goes to fight in the war in Europe, and in The Midnight Palace there is the grandmother who has to give up her newborn baby grandson to someone else for him to stay safe.

I obviously don’t know if this is right, but feel there is a really strong flavour of India in these stories. One was written by a Spanish author, and the other by a British born Indian. Both strike me as genuine. Both leave me wanting more.

The Midnight Palace

Thank goodness for the fact that September has 31 days in it! (Yes, you may think it says 1st October above, but it is the 31st of September. We witches have a way with dates.)

So, my foreign reading challenge for September comes from Spain, and The Midnight Palace is the second of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s children’s books. I was slightly confused about some aspects of Carlos’s first book, but this one reads like a dream. In fact, for a foreign book its flavour is so very British as to almost disqualify itself for the challenge.

Set in Calcutta in 1932 it is a British Empire kind of story, if that’s what one can call it. Like in his first book, Carlos weaves the supernatural into the plot, and it was hard to work out quite how he would resolve it.

It’s about a group of 16-year-old orphans, on the eve of them being sent out into the world from the orphanage where they have spent their whole lives so far. One of them has a threat hanging over him, which none of them have been aware of, and which comes almost like a bolt from the blue.

They need to suddenly sort this situation out, and it becomes dangerous for all of them, and the meaning of friendship comes to the fore. What will they do? And is it going to be everyone for themselves?

I’m uncertain of the children’s origins in some cases, but I’m guessing it’s a mix of native and white. Calcutta is a fascinating and dangerous place, and this is a very exciting story. I already look forward to his next book.

The Prince of Mist

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.

Bookwitch bites #10

Some books are more doomed than others. Or is it me who is doomed? Whatever. I realise you have all been waiting very impatiently for me to tell you what I think of Monsters of Men, the final part in the trilogy by Patrick Ness. But the book is just failing to appear, and there are only so many times I feel it’s OK to ask. It could be that there is a massive ‘steal a Patrick Ness book today’ plan in the Post Office, but somehow I doubt it.

Will it come as a surprise to you that Melvin Burgess has been accused of being a racist? It did to me. And to him. Well, Melvin went to India as as nice a man as he always was, and returned home a racist. That’s according to someone who heard him speak while he was there, and who was offended. There has since been an exchange of thoughts on Melvin’s blog, including comments from Bali Rai. And from me. Should have known better, since I was also told off, and underwent a sex change in the process; ‘and to respond to the bookwitch person’s experience, I would ask him to refrain from generalising about the Indian Pakistani relationship.’

Quite.

I’m reading The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. There will be an event with Carlos at Foyles on June 2nd at 18.30. I’ve been invited, but have that very inconvenient holiday problem again. So maybe if a few others go along to hear him, it will make up for my absence? His book has been so successful elsewhere, and it’ll be interesting to see how the British take to it.

Talking of success, I noticed that House Rules by Jodi Picoult sold better than any other hardback fiction last week. I’d like to think that it’s the topic of Asperger Syndrome that caused the sales, but it might simply be down to the name Jodi Picoult. The birthday card I asked Jodi to sign for Daughter’s friend went down well last week. I suppose it’s not every day you have a birthday card from your favourite author. Not even every birthday. Think she quite liked the book, too.

It might turn out to be an embarrassment to win €250 of Irish book tokens if you’re somewhere else. But the pleasure of winning would still be yours. So unless they disqualify foreigners, here is a link to vote for the best Irish novel in the last ten years. As you will realise almost immediately, it’s not hard to choose at all. ; )

Hurry before the 27th of May.