The Shadow of the Wind took 300 pages to win me over, but the last 200 made up for the beginning uncertainty. As with all translations, it’s hard to say how the book read in the original; many sentences felt wrong or mangled at first, though those seemed to decrease as the book went along—or I just stopped noticing because I wanted so badly to reach the end. The clunky aspects became part of the style.
The effect of nineteenth century English writers shows in The Shadow of the Wind, which is rich with Gothic and Romantic elements, although again it’s hard to say how much they directly influenced Zafon and how much comes from Spanish writers I’ve never heard of. Still, the novel does have a certain majesty and depth that most mysteries lack—yes, it is also a mystery—and if one can get past the first chapter or two (“Why the hell am I reading about a pen?”), the story offers rewards.
I use the word “mystery” quite intentionally because it is one, but to pigeonhole The Shadow of the Wind in the amateur sleuth genre is no more fair than putting In the Name of the Rose in the same category. Europeans, perhaps not coincidentally, wrote both. Their protagonists explore and solve mysteries, but in doing so they manifest internal states through external journeys and thus bring about understanding of the self through conquest of the outer world. It is, after all, difficult if not impossible to present a unified whole against the outer world without first conquering what is within. So the mystery in The Shadow of the Wind is swathed in possibly supernatural darkness, against which books are the chief talismans, and the key to the mystery of an author. It’s another double-mystery like Possession—Byatt is yet another European writer—and it works, despite initial reservations.