The Angel’s Game was written with a muddled mind as though Carlos Ruiz Zafon was at war with himself throughout the process. With characters that are neither here nor there it leaves you hanging till the end wondering which ones will be most paramount to the novel.
Divided into three ‘Books’ – City of the Damned, Lux Aeterna and The Angel’s Game – Zafon’s prequel to The Shadow of the Wind, is narrated in first person. The story revolves around an orphaned writer named David Martin who writes a series of raunchy thrillers called City of the Damned. Painted with a colourful imagination and figures of speech that audible and visual at the same time, the novel starts off with great promise. Martin moves into a tower house abandoned for years that hints at a mystery after the demise of the previous owners. Here he spends his days locked away, writing, by his estimate, 6.66 pages a day to fulfill his quota of for 200 pages of the manuscript he must deliver to his slave driving publishers every month. But things go awry for young Martin when his health suffers from being over worked not to mention helping out his mentor and benefactor, Don Pedro Vidal, while facing a crisis of in executing his own novel.
Soon, worked to the bone Martin finds he has only a short while to live due to a tumor (how very Bollywood of you Mr Zafon) lodged in his brain. But the book suddenly takes a Hollywood twist when a mysterious publisher of religious texts from France gets in touch with him to write a book in exchange for 100,000 francs and a Faustian pact that will fulfill his heart’s desire. What follows is an attempt at cracking the mystery of the previous owner who, it’s hinted, has a lot more in common with Martin than he first thought.
"Sit and squeeze your brain until it hurts," says our Martin to his apprentice Isabella about the art of writing. It would seem that Mr Zafon has done the same – perhaps adding conversations he was having inside his own head to the dialogue between the characters. Unfortunately, the book has too many plot lines running through it to do any one justice. It could have made a good mystery that our professional-writer-turned-amateur-detective must crack. It could have also been a focused thesis on the process of writing and deriving inspiration by, as it mentions, squeezing your brain until it hurts. At points it borders dangerously on being a novel about the root of religious beliefs and their influence on society through the ages. But by no means is it one complete book that serves its purpose of being a satisfying read by an author with the power to chill you to the bone.
When we put Carlos Ruiz Zafon in the spotlight on his blog around a year ago, I had mentioned only that it had disappointed me immensely. But I recently decided to force myself to attempt it again because a sequel to the sequel written before the prequel is scheduled to release in English. And while I’m still looking forward to The Prisoner of Heaven (due to release sometime in July), I wish Zafon would have taken his own advice and sat his ass down to concentrate on one good book instead of creating a confluence of dreams, inspiration and, can’t grudge him this as an aspiring writer, the process of writing a novel.
You can’t always create a masterpiece. But when you’ve got a potential bestseller on your hands, I do believe that you have a duty to your loyalists. But with critical acclaim comes pressure. And with pressure comes a work like The Angel’s Game, that finds its talented and imaginative author trying hard to repeat with greater magnitude what he did with The Shadow of the Wind with disastrous results.