Life: The writer edition

“Isabella, if you really want to devote yourself to writing, or at least to writing something others will read, you’re going to have to get used to sometimes being ignored, insulted, and despised and to almost always being considered with indifference. It’s an occupational hazard.”

—Daivd Martín in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Angel’s Game

Life: Envy edition

“Envy is the religion of the mediocre. It comforts them, it soothes their worries, and finally it rots their souls, allowing them to justify their meanness and their greed until they believe these to be virtues. Such people are convinced that the doors of heaven will be opened only to poor wretches like themselves who go through life without leaving any trace but their threadbare attempts to belittle others and to exclude—and destroy if possible—those who, by the simple fact of their existence, show up their own poorness of spirit, mind, and guts.”

—Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game

Finishing The Shadow of the Wind

After rereading The Shadow of the Wind (previously mentioned here and here), I’m astonished and breathless at the conclusion. The first and second time through I didn’t pay nearly close enough attention to the closing pages and how they deftly finish the circle while simultaneously pointing to the future.

I can’t believe I missed them.

I also hadn’t realized just how effectively the story’s stories-within-a-story devices work because on earlier reads I think I got too caught up the plot to appreciate what was happening. Now I have enough perspective and restraint to appreciate how Daniel, the protagonist, functions as a detective in a way that moves him from passive boy to active adult. The stories he gets others to tell him are incomplete, and part of what’s amazing about the novel is its transition from story to story and place to place.

In the last two years I’ve begun watching for those transitions with much greater (and professional) care: weaker novels make them stand out, while stronger ones make you forget they exist because each move from chapter to chapter and section to section feels completely natural. The Shadow of the Wind is certainly among the latter. By the time Nuria Monfort’s story appears in full, I was aching to know it, yet savoring its telling. I can point to one or two technical weaknesses in the story—how come it sounds like the rest of the narration, denying her a unique voice?—I don’t care. The novel is too strong for minor points like that to hold it up.

When dialog works: Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind

I’m rereading Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind, which gets better with each repetition; the first time I got lost in the plot and was more annoyed by the occasional cliche than I am now. Now the cliches seem more like cheek and a nod back at pulpy origins. This bit of dialog reminds me about a lot of what works in the novel, especially the over-wrought language of Fermín, the older rascal who takes to advising the young and overly proper Daniel:

‘People who have no life always have to stick their nose in the life of others,’ said Fermín. ‘What were we talking about?’
‘About my lack of guts.’
‘Right. A textbook case. Trust you me, young man. Go after your girl. Life flies by, especially the bit that’s worth living. You heard what the priest said. Like a flash.’
‘She’s not my girl.’
‘Well, then, make her yours before someone else takes her, especially the little tin soldier.’
‘You talk as if Bea were a trophy.’
‘No, as if she were a blessing,’ Fermín corrected. ‘Look, Daniel. Destiny is usually just around the corner. Like a thief, a hooker, or a lottery vendor: its three most common personifications. But what destiny does not do is home visits. You have to go for it.’

I love the second line, and the first spoken by Daniel, whose acknowledgment that they’re discussing “my lack of guts” implicitly admits that Fermín is already right, and Daniel knows it, but he still needs to be talked into doing something about it. He’s too passive—and knows that, too—but is also so passive that he doesn’t really know how to stop being passive. He can only offer objections when he should be as direct about Bea as he is about solving the mystery of Julian Carax, which is the plot’s primary strands and one that interweaves with the others.

That said, the passage isn’t perfect, and “trust you me” is probably a translator’s error. But I didn’t notice it as I read: only caught it as I began writing this. The novel is sufficiently involving to make one forgive minor sins. “Trust you me” could also be Fermín’s character: he’s stuff with half-believed folk wisdom (“Life flies by, especially the bit that’s worth living”), and only half believing it that lets such wisdom be funny—and, strangely, truer than it would be from someone delivering ridiculous lines like “Destiny is usually just around the corner” straight. Fermín also does imply that Bea is an object (which is objectionable; how many of us want to be “a trophy?”), but he doesn’t believe it: that half-belief lets him get away with it. We love his cheek, his pretend expertise (Daniel is “A textbook case,” as if textbooks are written about smitten adolescents, rather than novels), and it’s sustained throughout the novel.

Preview: Kinesis Advantage ergonomic keyboard and The Angel's Game

I’m typing this on a Kinesis Advantage ergonomic keyboard, which I’ve become somewhat proficient with after about six hours of use. Expect a full review of it in a few weeks. Ditto for Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Angel’s Game, though I’m typing it with this keyboard and so am not at my previous speeds—yet.


EDIT: You can now read the full review of the Advantage.

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