This novel came very highly recommended by several people whose reading tastes I trust completely, so I went into it with high expectations. While it is a very good book and I was not disappointed, I do wonder if I might have loved it more if I’d just stumbled across it by chance, rather than it having such a weight of expectation to support.
The Shadow of the Wind, translated from the original Spanish, is exactly the kind of literary mystery tailor-made to draw me in. Daniel Sempere is a young boy in Barcelona in 1945, the only son of a bookseller. He discovers a novel called The Shadow of the Wind and becomes obsessed with it. But when he tries to find out more about the book and its mysterious author, hoping to read more of his work, he discovers a mystery. The author is presumed dead under mysterious circumstances, and nobody seems to know (or be willing to say much about him). His few novels, which never sold well in his lifetime, are increasingly hard to find — largely because it appears that someone has been going around systematically trying to destroy every copy in existence.
This puzzle leads young Daniel on a quest that will consume the next ten years of his life and bring an array of colourful characters into his path. Eventually, the mystery is solved in a satisfying way, though it was a solution I was able to predict from early on, and that may have been part of the reason I wasn’t wholly enthralled by the book. I love it when author can surprise me, and since I’m pretty dim about plots and clues this happens a fair bit. In this case, however, the twist at the end was one I could see coming a long ways off so I missed the pleasure of being surprised. I also thought there was a bit too much reliance on the tropes of undying love, and beautiful women as objects of desire (without being fully developed characters in their own right). However, balanced against all this, the book was beautifully written and a joy to read. The scene-setting is very evocative, and there’s a truly wonderful cast of characters. If you like books about books, this is one you will want to check out.