The Sign of Four, my second Sherlock Holmes book after the rather unusual A Study in Scarlet, was finally what I expected (and what the current seasonThe Sign of Four, my second Sherlock Holmes book after the rather unusual A Study in Scarlet, was finally what I expected (and what the current season of the BBC's Sherlock fails to deliver) and vaguely remembered from two or three short stories I read at school as an early English learner: a solid mystery, somewhat oppressive Victorian atmosphere and of course a fair share of deduction.
The characters in Doyle's work clearly lack depth, but for me it works quite well on the basis of what I call 'The Indiana Jones Principle': a character simply has a strong and charismatic personality based on their sheer presence, quirks and actions without going further than scratching the surface. Holmes is such a protagonist. He's just *there*, and very much so, although we barely learn anything about him, why he is the way he is and so on. It's the mystery the author focuses on, but it wouldn't work as well as it does if the famous detective wasn't such a unique and ambiguous person. Pitch-black depression and cocaine consumption are followed by hyperactive crime solving and joyous dinners with Watson and a Scotland Yard inspector. You never really know what Holmes will do next.
Doyle often creates a creepy, ominous atmosphere which has become the epitome of the Victorian detective novel, and I love it. I'm not exactly fond of gore and explicit violence (though I can deal with it) and very much prefer pleasurable shivers running down my spine.
I didn't care for the romance aspect (isn't it always like that with me?), especially because it had that annoying notion of the infamous, obviously unavoidable 'instalove', but Mary Morstan is a surprisingly likeable and down-to-earth woman, so I won't complain too much.
Doyle once again added a piece of British history, this time set during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Let's just say that his stance on these events is an English one and you have to take it in with a grain of salt. At least he doesn't draw a particularly flattering picture of the British military either, which - to a certain extent - makes up for the underlying racism.
Personal note: I tend to give characters the faces of actors and actresses while reading, either because they match the description, seem to fit the role or have actually played a character before. In this case I constantly jumped back and forth between Robert Stephens (from Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes) and Benedict Cumberbatch, which was mildly irritating because they look nothing alike. ...more
I love books which deal with... well, books. Is there a better way to honour the medium you've dedicated yourself to tha4.5 stars (copied from my blog)
I love books which deal with... well, books. Is there a better way to honour the medium you've dedicated yourself to than to write about it? Libraries, book shops, the smell of old paper, endless hours spent on immersing yourself in a story and its characters, bringing them to life, if only in your imagination... The last time I was dragged right into a novel, a true page-turner, with hardly any means to escape seems to have been ages ago. It's good to know that it's still possible.
In a way, Zafón's writing reminded me of Charles Dickens. A vivid and colourful style, weird and unique characters as well as a villain straight from hell. The plot is mysterious, thrilling, romantic, sad, tragic, artistically convoluted, and there's always room for a pinch of humour, something that is extremely important to me. Sometimes he goes somewhat overboard and there's a little too much drama, but I've always had issues with that, so it's probably just me. I've never been particularly interested in Spain, and I know literally nothing about Barcelona, but there were moments when I could almost smell the books in the Sempere book shop, when I could see the remains of the Spanish Civil War, the poverty and general misery which resulted from that war and the Franco regime. Zafón manages to interweave his plot with the historic events of that time in a very clever manner. You get a nice history lesson without even really noticing it.
The author also uses mirror and circle images. The book basically ends the same way it started. Daniel Sempere's life shows obvious parallels to Julián Carax's life even though Daniel isn't - at least in the beginning - fully aware of it. From a Montblanc pen to a forbidden love, their lives are like distorted reflections with some major differences which allow Daniel to escape a fate similar to Julián's.
Of course even "The Shadow of the Wind" isn't without flaws. (view spoiler)[I knew almost immediately that Lain Coubert, the devil himself in Julián Carax's novel, is actually Carax himself. It was just too predictable and obvious, so when Daniel reads Nuria Montfort's story, I wasn't the tiniest bit surprised that my suspicion was confirmed.
Julián and the love of his life, Penélope, turned out to be siblings, and that was just too much for my taste. There was enough reason for Penélope's father to seperate the young lovers. Carax was only the son of a hatter, he impregnated a rich and powerful man's daughter - people have been hunted down and killed for much less. The incest drama wasn't necessary and pretty cheap. (hide spoiler)]
Overall "The Shadow of the Wind" is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's not one of those novels which change your life, at least not as far as I am concerned, but it did perfectly what I demand of a book the most - it made me forget everything else around me. That's one of the highest praises I can give.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more