For weeks the idea of making a shelf – a place to keep my scattered books – seemed like a daunting task. And yet, it was done, slowly, a few hours every day, over the space of a week – the wood cut into precise (well, almost precise) parts, rubbed with sandpaper until it felt smooth to the touch, holes drilled into it to hold the metal screws, the smell of burned wood strong and delicious, a scent I have started to love. And then when it was ready, the books took their places, ready to sleep the sleep of the undisturbed until a hand will pull them out of that rest and leaf through for favorite passages or maybe for a new read.
Stepping back to look at it, I was reminded of that wonderful concept Zafón has incorporated in his three books that are part of a series: The Angel’s Game, The Shadow of the Wind, and his latest, The Prisoner of Heaven. If you’ve read any of them you might guess what I’m about to say: “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books”, a magical place that Zafón describes as a secret place filled with many books, a place known to a very few. A place where one (but not just anyone) can go and choose a book to save from oblivion, a book that they are responsible for as long as they live. While my new shelf certainly could not be called a cemetery – I’d rather think of it as a “sanctuary for books” – it did bring back to mind Zafón’s words. And his three novels have their own place in it.
The Prisoner of Heaven is divided into five parts, and the story goes back and forth in time. In this new volume of the series, the reader is brought back to the characters they first met in The Shadow of the Wind – the Sempere family, more precisely the father and his son, Daniel, who is now married and has a son of his own. The Sempere family owns a bookstore and the business is not doing so well. One night a mysterious man comes in and buys the most expensive book on display and inscribes it to Fermín de Torres, a friend of the Sempere family who also works in the bookstore. From then on, things start to get complicated. And with his usual flair for drama, Zafón starts building yet another mystery in which the past comes back, secrets are revealed and in turn beget more secrets. We find out more about David Martín, the main character in The Angel’s Game, and his connection to the Sempere family. Fermín’s grim past is revealed and also the ramifications of a promise he made a long time ago and his effort to build a new life by marrying Bernarda, the woman he loves.
I confess to having been a bit lost in the story – I’ve read the first two books in the series a few years ago and some details that I felt were crucial where lost. Even though a passage at the beginning of the novel says the books in the series are “self-contained” and can be read in any order, I felt like something was missing. That being said, I did enjoy the third installment; in spite of the book being peppered with clichés and the flamboyancy of the writing, I felt myself entertained and curious enough to turn every page, anxious to see what happens next. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much, it reminds me of the sensationalist Victorian novels where every new chapter meant tragedy and tears and possibly even death. This book has its share of all three.
The end is a promise for more drama and tragedy. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. Until then, I leave you with a question: if you could go to “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books”, which book would you save?
*Read in July 2012