If you read my shortcut on The Prince of Mist, you’ll remember that one of the things I accused Zafón of being in that novel was too simplistic, both in terms of prose and plot. Not so here.
Going from reading The Prince of Mist to The Angel’s Game is like going from The Crying of Lot 49 to Gravity’s Rainbow. And so, to avoid needless complexity, let’s just assume you’ve all read Gravity’s Rainbow and go from there, because if you understand Gravity’s Rainbow, then you understand everything. Except perhaps Finnegan’s Wake.
Shortcut #56: Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Angel’s Game
The Angel’s Game is the story of David Martín, an orphaned boy who works at a newspaper in the beginning of the novel who soon becomes one of the most famous voices in Spanish popular fiction. Sadly, all this fame is not tethered to his real name. He lives in rich obscurity, his fortunes and his talents tied to disreputable publishers, until given the opportunity to write a single book for another publisher who will pay him enough for the work that he will be set for life.
The only catch is that writing for this publisher has driven people insane in the past. People die mysteriously. Oh, and finishing the book might result in the end of the world.
This is a novel steeped in noir. There are shady characters, back-alley meetings, women in trouble, men who are up to no good, and secrets galore. Martín, unlike typical heroes of noir, tries to keep his eyes averted from what’s going on around him. Sure, there are questions he’d like answers to, but once he finds himself embroiled in the midst of the ultimate shady deal, he tries to ignore it, convincing himself that the shadiness is all the light there ever was.
But this is a novel also about growing up. Zafón starts us with David at the tender age of seventeen, tender even though his father was murdered in front of him (Hello, Batman!) and his mother abandoned him when he was very young(er). He works a crappy job at The Voice of Industry newspaper, but is spotlighted when his talent for writing stories gets him a regular column. Of course, that success also causes ill will among his colleagues, and he’s eventually driven out into the hard world of, well, a writer.
Saying this novel is about growing up makes it sound like it is a coming-of-age story. And it is, but it’s also a coming-of-middle-age story. By the time we reach the end of the book David has gone through all the major checkpoints in life, even ending up with a kid of his own (sort of, and the end result is a bit troubling, but I’ll let you find it out on your own). It’s a coming-of-age story for a middle-aged writer, and it’s dark, and it’s terrifying, and it’s beautiful.