Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

When I started on the first chapter of the book I was a little taken aback. I have a reputation for tossing a book, if I don't like the first chapter, but this was a Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I re-examined the name of the translator to see if this was done by a different person from the first two books by this author. It was the same. I showed it to Phek Chin, and she said, "Hey, this sounds different." She showed it to Jamilah, who thought it sounded like an American novel (and not in a good way). Although I was baffled, I decided to try it for a few more chapters. It got better. But, a few chapters later; bad again. Overall, the translation (or the editing) is a little uneven, as if it was done by, at least, two different people. One has to wonder why. Have publishing houses decided to replaced their more experienced editors with interns, due to a new economic policy? Did they rush this book, with several editors working on it at the same time? Or, were they plain sloppy? Whatever it is, it does not augur well for the book industry.

First, let's straighten out some important things. I have the British hardback edition by Wieldenfeld & Nicholson, and the cover design is beautiful; reminiscent of the cover of The Shadow of the Wind. (Normally, I prefer the American covers, but not this time.) I won't recommend a Kindle, Nook or iPad  edition. This is a book you'd want to show off. It'll look real handsome on your shelf; get the hardback or the Tradeback. So, there.

The Prisoner of Heaven is the third of a set of novels that revolves around the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Although Shadow of the Wind, The Angel's Game and the present volume can be read individually, and in any order, characters from the other two flit in and out of the stories giving it the feel of a trilogy that it's not. The common threads run through Sampere & Sons, a bookshop in Barcelona, with the reader often left to wonder, "Now was that the father, or the grandfather, in the last book .. and which generation is Daniel?" and so on. It's a lot of fun.

The Prisoner of Heaven has a more misty, Shadow of the Wind feel to it, unlike The Angel's Game which felt like it was written for a movie (and Hollywood, at that), which does not mean Carlos Ruiz Zafon pads the story with trivia. The novel is tight and sinewy, without too much excess fat (except for those parts mentioned in para one above). The action is relentless, yet intelligent -- Carlos Ruiz Zafon has proved, again, that these are not mutually exclusive qualities -- with a wonderful dollop of (mostly) irreverent humour. In the hands of Carlos Ruiz Zafon, the term intelligent thriller is not an oxymoron. It's a light read, but not fluffy. Those who enjoyed Shadow of the Wind will like this. I'd love to read it in Spanish (as one customer said he was going to). Unfortunately, I'm handicapped by English.

On Facebook, this will be a definite 'like'.