What a remarkable and unusual book! I was hooked from the moment I read these two reviews:
From Stephen King: "If you thought the true gothic novel died with the nineteenth century, this will change your mind. This is the real deal, a novel full of cheesy splendor and creaking trapdoors, a novel where even the subplots have subplots...This is one gorgeous read."
From the New York Times Book Review: "Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Umberto Eco meets Jorge Luis Borges for a sprawling magic show, exasperatingly tricky, and mostly wonderful..."
I simply cannot improve on these two testimonials. Since the original was in Spanish, we owe a huge debt to the translator, because the descriptive language was marvelous:
"...we walked through the streets of a Barcelona trapped beneath ashen skies as dawn poured over Rambla de Santa Monica in a wreath of liquid copper."
Speaking of life with his father after his mother's death, the teenaged protagonist, Daniel, says: "Six years later my mother's absence remained in the air around us, a deafening silence that I had not yet learned to stifle with words."
On striking a match to light a candle in a long-abandoned mansion, Daniel observes, "A copper-colored bubble lit up in my hands and revealed the dancing shapes of the walls that wept with tears of dampness, the fallen ceilings and dilapidated doors...[and much later in the garden] The air smelled of weeds and wet earth. The stone, dark and slimy with rain, shone like the skeleton of a huge reptile."
"I was thankful for the mantle of the night, for it concealed the tears of terror running down my cheeks."
In many ways, this magical story was a tribute to books: their power to inspire, entertain, and change the reader. Daniel overhears a customer in his family's bookstore say, "...few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart." Later, Daniel's true love, Bea, says that "the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day."
This last excerpt will resonate with those of us who love to read. It makes me want to be the greatest reader I can possibly be.