Written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Published by Little Brown, July 22, 2014 (Originally published in Spain in 1999. Translated and published in Canada in 2014)
My star rating: 4 stars
In May 1980, fifteen-year-old Oscar Drai suddenly vanishes from his barding school in Barcelona. For seven days and seven nights no one knows his whereabouts…
His story begins in an old quarter of the city, where he meets the strange Marina and her father, Germán Blau, a portrait painter. Marina takes Oscar to a cemetery to watch a macabre ritual that occurs on the last Sunday of each month. At exactly ten o’clock in the morning, a coach pulled by black horses appears. From it descends a woman, her face shrouded be a black velvet cloak. Holding a single rose, she walks to a gravestone that bears no name, only a mysterious emblem of a black butterfly with open wings.
When Oscar and Marina decide to follow her, they begin a journey that transports them to a forgotten, postwar Barcelona–a world of aristocrats and actresses, inventors and tycoons–and reveals a dark secret that lies waiting in the mysterious labyrinth beneath the city streets. Find it on Goodreads
Wow! What a dark, twisted, emotional, creepy and atmospheric read!! I went into this one not knowing what to expect at all. I kind of assumed from the synopsis that it was going to have a lot to do with the “labyrinth beneath the city streets” but that wasn’t a very big part of it. It more so had to do with the inventors and tycoons – but in a way you’ve probably never imagined in your darkest dreams. Be prepared because it really is something else!! I’m going to try and review this but honestly it’s a hard one to sum up. This is a book that you really need to experience the atmosphere and unravel the mystery on your own.
Oscar left school one night to explore the city and followed a cat to a large house with beautiful music coming from inside. He followed the cat inside the house for some reason and found a watch sitting beside the source of the music. Scared off by something, he ran away only to realize the watch was still in his hands. Later on he decides to return the watch and meets a girl named Marina and her father Germán. They quickly become friends. One night Marina takes him to a cemetery where there’s a woman dressed all in black. The woman visits the cemetery on the same night every month, at the same time, wearing the same clothes, like clockwork. After their encounter with the woman they decide to follow her – and that’s when things get weird! The woman disappears and they find a greenhouse filled with strange contraptions and a smell of rotting and death. These “Dolls” and small beings are either missing limbs or have mismatched parts. There’s also a photo album containing only photos of deformed humans… and that’s when the small “dolls” come alive. This strange encounter sets off a series of strange events and a feeling that someone is always watching and following Oscar.
Oscar is contacted by the woman in black and he’s sent on a wild chase. He was given the name and address of a man on a piece of paper. But when Oscar arrives, the man is not there, but the person living there knew him and knew his story. A twisted story involving a genius who helped those to have functioning limbs again and married a world renowned beauty, slowly descending into madness. The story weaves around this man and his motives – and it was creepily beautiful!
This is more of a plot and mystery driven book opposed to a character driven one. I was interested in the characters but not as invested in them emotionally as I thought I would be. There wasn’t really a romance between Oscar and Marina, more of a friendship and dealing with emotions as you’re trying to figure out how the other person feels. There was a bit of a side plot going on with these two and I figured it out almost right from the beginning which made the big reveal towards the end less dramatic for me.
The one thing that stood out the most for me about this book was the setting and atmosphere. When I think of Spain I think of brightness, colour, and sunshine. This version was more of a night time scene, with darkness, crumbling buildings and fog to cover it all. This reminded me of the type of Spain that no tourist sees, all dark alleys, tunnels and abandoned buildings. The atmosphere was SO well done! Lots of suspense in all the right places and full descriptions to complete the scene in your mind.
I’m struggling to explain why you should read this book because if I say anything at all it may ruin the suspense for you. This one is best to go into blind!
Until next time, happy reading!