The Angel’s Game – DNF

angelsgameA writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price. – from The Angel’s Game, page 1 –

When I read that first paragraph, I thought: “Oh, this is going to be good.” It had all the attributes of a hook…beautiful prose, a little (possible) foreshadowing, intrigue. So you can imagine my disappointment when more than 100 pages into Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s newest novel I laid it down realizing I would not finish it. I read Zafon’s first book A Shadow of the Wind (read my review) and loved it. I was so excited to snag an ARC of The Angel’s Game. I wanted to love it too. So what went wrong?

For starters, the main character David Martin is uninteresting. He is a blossoming writer living in 1920s Barcelona who becomes obsessed with his stories. I ultimately stopped caring what happened to him, and once that happened, the book was doomed for me since The Angel’s Game is David’s story.

But even more than my disinterest in the main character, I found myself disappointed with the writing. It is just so-so, and mostly overly dramatic when it doesn’t need to be. On top of that, Zafon makes a clumsy attempt to parallel his novel to that of Great Expectations (there is unrequited love, a mysterious benefactor, and multiple references to Dicken’s work). He also borrows liberally from the themes of his first novel…I found it rehashed and boring.

So despite my best efforts…reading well beyond the point I wanted to…The Angel’s Game lands in the pile of rare books which I was not able to finish. Since my opinion on a book is obviously not the only opinion out there, you might want to read other bloggers’ reviews:

Devourer of Books

1 More Chapter

Pages Turned

Book Chatter and Other Stuff

Medieval Bookworm

Lost in Books

Thoughts of Joy

A Bookworm’s World

Fresh Ink Books

This Book and I Could Be Friends

Nonsuch Book

We Be Reading

Stella Matutina

Have you read and reviewed this book? If so, leave me a comment with your link and I’ll add you to this post.

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    • lenore on October 4, 2009 at 10:07

    I haven’t yet read Shadow of the Wind, but it looks like I’d be well served to read that one instead of this one. Sorry you couldn’t finish – I know how disapointing that is.

    • EL Fay on October 4, 2009 at 11:02

    Oh no, I’m sorry you didn’t like it. I thought the prose was over-the-top too at first, but then I started to see it as a reflection of David Martin’s job as a writer of lurid Gothic tales. Gothic literature, of course, has a long history of self-parody (i.e. Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.) With the overly dramatic writing and all the cliched Gothic tropes (madness!hauntedruins!blackmagic!), I felt that The Angel’s Game was ultimately a play on genre.

    Here’s my review:

    • nikki on October 4, 2009 at 11:33

    I think you completely missed the point of the novel. I too loved, adored, shadow of the wind, and found the angel’s game to be a much darker and more complicated entry into the same world. I thought the writing was extraordinary, as it was in shadow, but this is a more difficult read and I think it demands that the reader puts something of herself in it rather than just letting the book do all the work (as shadow did). I’ve heard from some readers that had a similar reaction to this book as yours, and in all cases I think they expected the author to write the same book again and provide the same “sweetness”, the same redemption and hope of that novel. I don’t think he was interested in doing the same thing again and wanted to offer something new, daring and more complicated to his readers. I for one think that this time is the readers who are failing an author. This is not a feel good book. It does not make you feel good about yourself or the world. It makes you face things inside of you that are not likable or inspire hope and a romantic perception of of world. I believe that , and the fact that the story demands you interpret it not just read passively, prompts in some readers a negative emotional reaction. That said, I found that despite all that, the angel’s game is a superbly intelligent and exciting entertainment, both a parody and a meditation on the gothic genre, a story about writing and language and a masterful fable about the darkness in our hearts and our incapacity to face it. Sometimes, I believe, we as readers need to be more daring and be able to enjoy literature beyond the Oprah club comfort zone of stories that make us feel good about ourselves.

    • Wendy on October 4, 2009 at 11:41

    Lenore: It was disappointing…but apparently according to Nikki I didn’t put enough of myself into it *smiles*

    El Fay: I have really appreciated other Gothic novels (like Rebecca), so I don’t think it was the gothic feel to the book. The parody didn’t really work for me (although I will grant you that I did not finish the book, so maybe it would have ultimately worked). Thanks for the link to your review…I’ll add it here.

    Nikki: I certainly appreciate that you had a different reaction to this book…but please don’t imply that somehow I only read Oprah and am unable to enjoy books which make me uncomfortable. If you read my blog at all, you will see that this is an unfair accusation. I recently read A Disobedient Girl which is wonderful literary fiction with very uncomfortable subject matter. Have you read it? It is excellent…the writing is fluid and beautiful, the story compelling. I am not a passive reader…but I also think the author DOES have a job to do when he/she writes a book. To expect a reader to do their work for them is a ridiculous assumption. That said, I respect your opinion…as I hope you respect mine. Not every book works for every reader.

  1. I am sorry to hear this one didn’t work for you, Wendy. I plan to give it a try one of these days. You’re right about that opening. It’s got quite a hook.

    • Wendy on October 4, 2009 at 12:07

    Wendy: I hope you enjoy the book when you read it. There are some good reviews of it out there, so although it didn’t work for me…it did work for others. I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts!

    • Kathy on October 4, 2009 at 12:56

    Too bad it didn’t work for you. I still plan to give it a try one day.

  2. I had much the same reaction as you.

    Not looking for a feel good book. And Northanger Abbey is one of my favorite novels, but this did not work for me on any of those same levels once we got past the brooding, atmospheric descriptions of old Barcelona (which I loved). I see what the author is attempting but either he, or the translator, fell short in this cliche laden read. I kept asking “Where was the editor?”

    • Andi on October 4, 2009 at 15:55

    Wendy, not to sound weird here, but I’m am SO GLAD you couldn’t finish this one. I couldn’t get into it either, and laid it aside (guiltily, for certain). I read so many good/excited reviews that I thought I was utterly alone in not caring for it. 🙂

  3. I reviewed this one here –

    I liked it … not as much as Shadow of the Wind but for thematic issues and not the writing. I do agree that this isn’t a book for everyone though. You put a full effort into trying to finish it though!

    • Nicole on October 4, 2009 at 16:11

    This one hasn’t been high on my list of books to procure, which is surprising since I will usually buy multiple books by an author if I think they will be really good. Th one just didn’t call to me. I have The Shadow of the Wind, so I will start there and see then if I want to try this one.

    • EL Fay on October 4, 2009 at 16:50

    I feel that I should address Nikki – I’m not an Oprah fan either (I don’t feel the need to let celebrities dictate what I read) but the assumption that she only promotes “feel-good” fluff books is absolutely false. Actually, most of her books are quite literary and can be very dark. She’s done a lot of Toni Morrison. She’s also done Breath, Eyes, Memory, which deals with sexual abuse, as well as Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and Elie Wiesel’s Night. Here’s a complete list:

  4. I don’t blame you for not finishing this book, but I think you actually put it down right before it started to pick up. I enjoyed the first hundred or so pages the least. That said, I certainly didn’t like any of it as much as “Shadow of the Wind.”

    • Meghan on October 5, 2009 at 00:24

    I liked it, but again, not as much as Shadow of the Wind. I can completely understand stalling and putting it down. I also completely agree with your criticism of Martin. I just looked back at my review and I didn’t mention anything about his character at all. He wasn’t appealing to me and I read the book without really liking him – in fact, I thought he was a right bastard at times.

  5. I was one of the few who didn’t love Shadow of the Wind so it sounds like I should doubly steer clear of this one!

  6. This one wasn’t on my radar to begin with, but it certainly isn’t on it now. Thanks for the great review.

    As for Nikki’s comment saying that if someone put in more effort they would have liked the book more – that is a cop-out. It’s the writer’s responsibility to write an engaging story, not the readers responsibility to smooth out all the holes. If she liked it, fine, but she shouldn’t act like a snob when others don’t like it.

  7. I liked this book, but actually understand why you didn’t finish it. I had a very difficult time getting into it.

    • Kim on October 6, 2009 at 06:35

    I have not read Shadow of the Wind, and probably won’t be looking for this one any time soon. I always respect your reviews, and as a loyal reader of your blog can say that you read many books which I would not have stuck it out through, so I know you don’t quit books lightly!

    I think we as readers have the absolute right to drop a book. And to do so guilt-free. In my own life I view reading as my hobby, way to relax, and way to broaden my horizons at the same time. Time is of a premium for me and I am just not going waste time on a book I don’t connect with.

    Thanks for the great review.

    • Wendy on October 7, 2009 at 06:41

    Kathy: You should definitely give it a try – many people rave about this book…and I have a feeling my opinion is in the minority.

    Frances: *nodding* I wondered the same thing. I’ll add your review to my post…thanks for the link 🙂

    Andi: *laughing* You aren’t alone…I’ve read reviews on this from glowing to just like mine.

    Kristen M.: Thanks for the link to your review…I decided that if after 100 pages I was still not liking it, it was time to move on. I have too many books in my TBR pile to stick with a book I don’t want to read.

    Nicole: I really enjoyed Shadow of the Wind – so I hope you do too!

    El Fay: Thank you! You make an excellent point – many of the Oprah books are tough to get through because of their subject matter. Thanks for weighing in!

    Jen: Oh well – I still think if the author hasn’t hooked his reader by page 117 (where I stopped) he has failed. Sometimes I suffer on and have been rewarded…maybe I should have done so here.

    Meghan: *laughs* Although I have read many books I’ve liked with characters I hate, Martin just irritated me.

    Kristen: *nod* I don’t think this book is for you!

    Chad: Thanks! I agree, the author has a responsibility to tell as story in such a way that it is compelling and grabs the reader. I realize that reading is a partnership between reader and author…but who really carries the highest burden to make it all work? The author does, in my opinion. Thanks for weighing in!

    Swapna: I’m glad you enjoyed the book…I wish I could have!

    Kim: Thank you *smiles*! Time for me lately is so precious…you’re right, I hardly ever quit a book…but sometimes I think we just need to if we are not enjoying it. Who says reading is supposed to be torture? Or tons of work? I like a thought-provoking book…IF it is well done!

    • Marie on October 8, 2009 at 12:24

    I can hardly blame you- I haven’t even started it yet, and I was huuuuuuge fan of his earlier book.
    Also, I just wanted to say thank you for your awesome comments on my FTC post yesterday. I hope Jeff helped clear up some stuff for everyone; your questions were great and really got to the heart of what I think a lot of people in the blogging community- book blogs especially- are thinking. Thank you! 🙂

    • Wendy on October 11, 2009 at 07:22

    Hi Marie 🙂 Thank YOU for posting the interview with Jeff…it was very informative as were all the great comments and questions. I wrote my own post about the guidelines yesterday and gave a link to your post…so you might see some more people trickling into the discussion 🙂

    • Memory on October 11, 2009 at 08:10

    This one didn’t quite work for me, either, and it was all down to the narrator. I found him flat and impossible to connect with. Zafon told me what he felt, but I could never feel it for myself.

    Here’s my review:

    • Sheri on October 11, 2009 at 10:00

    I did read and review this book. It was a review copy. I actually received two and gave one away to another book review blogger. I thought this book was very well written, however I just didn’t understand the ending at all. I totally understand why you put it down.

    • Wendy on October 12, 2009 at 07:44

    Memory: Thanks for the link to your review – I’ve added it here 🙂 I agree with your thoughts (although I didn’t finish the book…the reason was mostly because I never connected with the main character)

    Sheri: Glad you liked it better than me…I just decided I didn’t want to spend time with David anymore 🙂

    • Jena on October 21, 2009 at 19:48

    We’re almost finished this one, and every night, I say, “It just keeps getting weirder and weirder.” I’m anticipating that I’m going to think your decision not to finish this is a good one.

    • Wendy on October 23, 2009 at 13:50

    Jena: Well, not everyone agrees with us…but I’m glad I laid it aside.

    • Audrey on November 8, 2009 at 08:58

    I too almost surrendered and set the book aside, but had heard that it is the second of a trilogy concerning the Library of Lost Books so continued to read. Not my favorite read but it did have parts that made the effort not a total loss.

    • Wendy on November 9, 2009 at 08:14

    Audrey: Glad to hear you were able to get through this book and it was not a total loss. I just didn’t have the patience for this one (although I loved Shadow of the Wind).

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