17 February 2014

Books: The Prisoner of Heaven By Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2012)

“For Fermín Romero de Torres, who came back from among the dead and holds the key to the future 13.”

With those words written in the pages of Semperes & Sons copy of The Count of Monty Cristo, the mystery of Fermín Romero de Torres is about to begin. In the third book of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, the book is once more narrated by The Shadow of the Wind’s hero Daniel Sempere – now married to Bea and with a young child, and who is running the bookstore alongside his father.

It’s 1957 and business is not good and the two Semperes are struggling to make ends meet. Happiness is on the horizon though, as their close friend Fermín Romero de Torres is about to wed Bernarda, the love of his life. But there is something bothering Fermín and he is not his usual upbeat self. And when he learns of the visit of the mysterious man who left the note in the Dumas book, Fermín recounts to Daniel his involvement with David Martín, the man who was a dear friend of his late mother, Isabella, and who (might) be his actual father some 17 years earlier. The vast majority of this book is his account of his prison time at the infamous Montjuïc castle where during the days of Franco’s dictatorship (in the 40s), political prisoners where held and “disappeared”. The depiction of the prison and how the prisoners suffered was horrific and affecting. It is also here where de Torres encounters David Martín, who narrated The Angel’s Game

I’ve read a few reviews that criticize Ruiz Zafón of connecting all the characters together like this, that Fermín Romero de Torres (always the most enjoyable rouge) has been part of Daniel’s life forever. That it also brings into more questions about the unreliable narrator aspect of David Martín’s tale told in The Angel’s Game.  

I don’t know. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by reading too much, that I’m fine with Ruiz Zafón’s attempt at linking the narrative of this four-book series like he’s done. Some reviews say he cheapened the series by doing this (which calls into mind from me, how George Lucas tinkered with his Star Wars saga), but I think this may have been his intention all along. After all, you don’t write a quartet of tales set in the same universe –connected by Cemetery of Forgotten Books- and not interact with characters from the other books. Perhaps they were expecting something else? Still, I can understand some peoples criticism of this short, almost novella, type book. Perhaps when the author was outling this series, he saw a flaw and tried to course correct it with this book? Or maybe, in some pulpy way, this was his intention all along, that despite his love for literature, he is writing popular fiction that tends to live on the corner of Convenience and Consequence?

I do feel that Ruiz Zafón treatment of women is very old school annoying; they’re prostitutes with the heart of gold or beautiful women who must be pursued by other men, making their husbands jealous. The subplot about Daniel suspecting his wife of extramarital affair is dubious at best and really, it seems, designed to add another mystery for a concluding book.

Still, the writing remains captivating and Ruiz Zafón’s love of literature endures. If anything, a reader might be tempted to forgo the rest of this author’s tales and pick up the tomes of Alexandre Dumas, Dickens and Balzac and discover their own variation on a cemetery of forgotten books.

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