At the base level, this is a novel about a young boy in Barcelona, growing up obsessed with a book he first got when he was ten from a secret library,...moreAt the base level, this is a novel about a young boy in Barcelona, growing up obsessed with a book he first got when he was ten from a secret library, and about how his life increasingly becomes entangled with that of the author of that book, to a point where the author's past seems like a mirror to young Daniel's future. But The Shadow of the Wind is about much more than that - it is about love and loss, about the beauty and sadness of life, about the myriad of lives and narratives that one can come across in an old, gorgeous city like Barcelona.
But most of all, for me, it's a novel about the nature of storytelling and reading, and about how wonderful it is that through writing, we can come to feel like we're not alone and like there are kindred spirits out there, and can get to a point where we feel like we know the author of a story (or perhaps the other way around) on a very fundamental level, perhaps even more so than we sometimes feel we know our loved ones - it's about how books can become our friends, and be so much more to us than what their physical form entails. The Shadow of the Wind has become such a book for me, and I love it without reserve.
My Favourite Quotes
"Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. (...) Every book you see here has been somebody's best friend. Now they only have us." - Isaac Monfort, p.4
"Once, in my father's bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of the words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a place in our memory to which, sooner or later - no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget - we will return." - p.6
"In my world death was like a nameless and incomprehensible hand, a door-to-door salesman who took away mothers, beggars, or ninety-year-old neighbors, like a hellish lottery. But I couldn't absorb the idea that death could actually walk by my side, with a human face and a heart that was poisoned with hated, that death could be dressed in a uniform or a raincoat, queue up at a cinema, laugh in bars, or take his children out for a walk to Ciudadela Park in the morning, and then, in the afternoo, make someone disappear in the dungeons of Montjuic Castle (...)." - p. 33/34
"(...) if you ever have a daughter, you'll begin, without realizing it, to divide men into two camps: those you suspect are sleeping with her and those you don't. Whoever says that's not true is lying through his teeth." - Isaac Monfort, p, 70
"Nobody knows much about women, not even Freud, not even women themselves. But it's like electricity: you don't have to know how it works to get a shock." - Fermin Romero de Torres, p.89
"The trouble is that man, going back to Freud, heats up like a lightbulb: red hot in the twinkling of an eye and cold again in a flash. The female, on the other hand - and this is pure science - heats up like an iron, slowly, over a low heat, like a tasty stew. But then, once she has heated up, there's no stopping her." - Fermin Romero de Torres, p.134
"The female heart is a labyrinth of subtleties, too challenging for the uncouth mind of the ale racketeer. If you really want to possess a woman, you must think like her, and the first thing to do is to win over her soul. The rest, that sweet, soft wrapping which steals away your senses and your virtue, is a bonus." - Fermin Romero de Torres, p.135
"You remind me a bit of Julian (...). The way you look, and your gestures. He used to do what you are doing now. He would stare at you without saying a word, and you wouldn't know what he was thinking, and so, like an idiot, you'd tell him things it would have been better to keep to yourself..." - Nuria Monfort, p.167
"The words with which a child's heart is poisoned, whether through malice or through ignorance, remain branded in his memory, and sooner or later they burn his soul." Nuria Monfort, p.170
"Julian lived in his books. The body that ended up in the morgue was only a part of him. His soul is in his stories. I once asked him who inspired him to create his characters, and his answer was no one. That all of his characters were himself." - Nuria Monfort, p.171
Set at the turn of the 20th century, The Night Circus is about two young magicians/illusionists (but not of the magic-wands-and-sparkles-type-magician...moreSet at the turn of the 20th century, The Night Circus is about two young magicians/illusionists (but not of the magic-wands-and-sparkles-type-magicians persuasion - their craft is something which requires study, and is much more real than many of the magics that I've read about over the years) who become ensnared in their respective masters' game, facing off in the ultimate show of skills, which is unlike any duel I've ever read about. The setting for their 'battle' is this peculiar, mono-chromatic, wonderful circus that, oh my, if only it existed in real life, I'm sure I'd go every night it was in town. However, things quickly grow complicated when the two youngsters, Celia and Marco, realize that to fight this battle might have a more negative outcome than they ever expected - they might lose the person they have come to love.
There is something magical in the way that Morgenstern combines elements that are technical, scientific, almost, with things that seem to come straight from our dreams, and thus constructs a world which, although footed in reality, contains things that the loftiest dreamers would be proud to come up with. Not only that, she is wonderful at hinting at the close relationship between the circus and the players of the game, showing the ties between the board and pieces and the two magicians, and clueing us into the reality of the game before ever truly revealing anything. I'd recommend this to anyone who is up for a little dreamlike, offbeat modern fairytale, reminiscent of The Prestige meets Alice in Wonderland Tim Burton style.
My Favourite Quotes
"The body of the clock, which has been methodically turning itself inside out and expanding, is now entirely subtle shades of white and grey. And it is not just pieces, it is figures and objects, perfectly carved flowers and planets and tiny books with actual pages that turn. There is a silver dragon that curls around part of the now visible clockwork, a tiny princess in a carved tower who paces in distress, awaiting an absent prince. Teapots that pour into teacups and minuscule curls of steam that rise from them as the seconds tick. Wrapped presents open. Small cats chase small dogs. An entire game of chess is played." - p86
"(...) a child should not have their choices dictated for them. I have listened to you read books aloud to my cats. When you were five years old you turned a laundry tub into a pirate ship and launched an attack against the hydrangeas in my garden. Do not try to convince me that you would choose that farm." - p109
"Her rooms are modest in comparison to others hidden behind the circus tents, but they are filled with books and well-worn furniture. Mismatched candles burn merrily on every available surface, illuminating the sleeping doves in their cages hanging amongst sweeping curtains of richly colored tapestries. A cozy sanctuary, comfortable and quiet." - p165
"The title of rêveurs begins as a joke, but it sticks, secure in its appropriateness. (...) It is these aficionados, these rêveurs, who see the details in the bigger picture of the circus. They see the nuance of the costumes, the intricacy of the signs. They buy sugar flowers and do not eat them, wrapping them in paper instead and carefully bringing them home. They are enthusiasts, devotees. Addicts. Something about the circus stirs their souls, and they ache for it when it is absent. (...) The circus knows them, and appreciates them - performers spotting them in the audience will bring out their best tricks." - p176-79
"Alone in his flat, Marco constructs tiny rooms from scraps of paper. Hallways and doors crafted from pages of books and bits of blueprint, pieces of wallpaper and fragments of letters. He composes chambers that lead into others that Celia has created. Stairs that wind around her halls. Leaving spaces open for her to respond." - p186
"The air between them is electric as he leans in, gently brushing his lips against her neck. In the next room, the guests complain about the sudden increase in temperature. Fans are drawn from colorful bags, fluttering like tropical birds." - p291
"He picks one at random, a small round ceramic jar (...). He pulls the lid off and looks inside. A small wisp of smoke escapes, but other than that it is empty. As he peers inside he smells the smoke of a roaring fire, and a hint of snow and roasting chestnuts. Curious, he inhales deeply. There is the aroma of mulled wine and sugared candy, peppermint and pipe smoke. The crisp pine scent of a fir tree. The wax of dripping candles. He can almost feel the snow, the excitement, and the anticipation, the sugary taste of a striped candy." - p299
"Her gown is white, covered in what to Bailey looks like looping black embroidery, but as he walks closer he sees that the black marks are actually words written across the fabric. When he is near enough to read parts of the gown, he realizes that they are love letters, inscribed in handwritten text. Words of desire and longing rapping around her waist, flowing down the train of her gown as it spills over the platform." - p302
"When she opens her eyes, they are standing on the quarterdeck of a ship in the middle of the ocean. Only the ship is made of books, its sails thousands of overlapping pages, and the sea it floats upon is dark black ink. (...) Celia walks to the edge of the deck, running her hands along the spines of the books that form the rail. A soft breeze plays with her hair, bringing with it the mingling scent of dusty tomes and damp, rich ink." - p332
"On every surface, tables and desks and armchairs, there are meticulously constructed models of tents. Some made from newsprint, others from fabric. Bits of blueprint and novels and stationary, folded and cut and shaped into a flock of striped tents, all tied together with more string in black and white and red. They are bound to bits of clockwork, pieces of mirror, stumps of dripping candles." - p371
"While most of the train compartments are saturated with color, Tsukiko's private car is almost completely neutral. A bare space surrounded by paper screens and curtains of raw silk, perfumed with the scent of ginger and cream. Tsukiko sits on the floor in the centre of the room, wearing a red kimono. A beating crimson heart in a pale chamber." - p386
"As he kisses her, the bonfire glows brighter. The acrobats catch the light perfectly as they spin. The entire circus sparkles, dazzling every patron. And then the immaculate cohesion stops as Celia reluctantly breaks away." - p404
"'It is not a tent that is stumbled upon,' Marco says. 'It is found when it is needed, instead. (...) You take a candle from the box at the entrance and light it from one that already burns on the tree. Your wish is ignited by someone else's wish.' (...) Inside the adjoining tent there is a towering tree. As large as his old oak tree, growing right out of the ground. The branches are bare and black but they are covered with dripping white candles, translucent layers of wax frosting over the bark." - p453-6
"Stories have changed, my dear boy. (...) There are no more battles between good and evil, no monsters to slay, no maidens in need of rescue. Most maidens are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves in my experience, at least the ones worth something, in any case. There are no longer simple tales with quests and beasts and happy endings. The quests lack clarity or goal or path. The beasts take different forms and are difficult to recognize for what they are. And there are never really endings, happy or otherwise. Things keep going on, they overlap and blur, your story is part of your sister's story is part of many other stories, and there is no telling where any of them may lead. Good and evil are a great deal more complex than a princess and a dragon, or a wolf and a scarlet-clad little girl. And is not the dragon the hero of his own story? Is not the wolf simply acting as a wolf should act? Though perhaps it is a singular wolf who goes to such lengths as to dress as a grandmother to toy with its prey." - p477
"Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There's magic in that. It is in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them, and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy." p482-3
"Taking his time as though he has all of it in the world, in the universe, from the days when tales meant more than they do now, but perhaps less than they will someday, he draws a breath that releases the tangled knot of words in his heart, and they fall from his lips effortlessly. 'The circus arrives without warning.'" - p486(less)
I don't typically read regular fiction; I tend to stray more into the domains of genre fiction, i.e. fantasy, s...moreThis was a complete dark horse for me.
I don't typically read regular fiction; I tend to stray more into the domains of genre fiction, i.e. fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction, or even young adult fiction. And even if I do read regular fiction, it's never this type of society-focused, upper-class-oriented stuff.
The novel, essentially, is about Edith Lavery, whom I would describe as a well-meaning and not intentionally materialistic gold digger. She manages to 'snag' Charles Uckfield, an earl, but dissatisfaction at the life she now finds herself in and the disparity with what she'd imagined it would be like get in the way of their happiness, and stuff happens. It's told from the eyes of a friend of the both of them, whom is never actually referred to by his full name.
What the novel does is paint a portrait of the English middle, upper middle and especially upper/aristocratic classes which rings painfully true (as little as I know about the subject), but is also quite charming and incredibly entertaining. Fellowes' skill at painting people accurately and amusingly is absolutely marvelous; it's been a long while since I found an author whose descriptions and character evaluations felt this honest and unstunted, completely taking into account, respecting, and even ironically mocking the essentially flawed nature of our kind.
I loved this book much, much more than I was initially expecting. A definite recommendation from me.(less)
This novel is so many things at once - a British public school pastiche, a coming-of-age novel, an espionage thriller, a saddening commentary on life,...moreThis novel is so many things at once - a British public school pastiche, a coming-of-age novel, an espionage thriller, a saddening commentary on life, yet at once a manifesto for everyone who's ever felt out of the ordinary, a heart-breakingly true account of the madness of being young and in love, and so on. I adored Adrian from the first, laughed out loud about 50 % of the total time I spent reading this book (which amounts to little over five or six hours, as I ripped through it). I do think it should come with a warning though; if you like novels with a clear, clean, linear plot progression (or much of a plot to begin with), this might not be your cuppa. If you are easily made uncomfortable by the very open discussion of sex, sexual deviance, and gay sex in particular, this again might not be for you. But if you are open to being taken on rather a wild ride, can handle being fooled eyes open about 50 times throughout the book, enjoy character-based novels and particularly the kind of protagonists who struggle to find a place in the world and frankly are rather sure there isn't a place for them to find at all, and are not afraid of terribly dirty, terribly intelligent, terribly British jokes, then by all means, read it!(less)