The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón began well and ended not so well. In between there were moments of delightful chills down my spine, happy recognition and a few WTF? moments.
The story in a nutshell is about David Martin, a writer and the trouble he gets himself mixed up in when he agrees to write a book for Andreas Corelli, a French publisher who gives Martin a 100,000 franc advance for the book.
There are so many elements of this book that could have made it brilliant. Charles Dickens’ book Great Expectations is one of those elements. We are taken down the path of the young David Martin as a sort of Pip. There is an Estella in the guise of a girl named Cristina. Miss Havisham becomes a more benevolent Pedro Vidal, a friend and mentor to David. Our convict Magwich is morphed from a benign and well-meaning benefactor into a creepy publisher who is definitely a metaphorical Devil and may or may not be the actual Lucifer himself. And of course, just like the young Pip who wants nothing more than to be a gentleman, the young David who wants to be nothing but a writer finds that his great expectations do not match reality. This theme starts off strong in the beginning but eventually becomes unfortunately lost in a mystery-thriller turn of events.
Great Expectations is at first enhanced by and then subsumed by a second element in the book, faith. The devil publisher Andreas Corelli commissions David to write a book that would create a new religion. Through conversations between David and Corelli ideas of faith, belief and religion are set forth in a not very subtle way. Corelli’s belief in what makes a religion and what constitutes faith are set up against David’s doubt and disbelief. The conversations are clunky at times. More interesting is how the idea of faith plays out in other ways like faith in another person being good and choosing to do the right thing, a faith in love conquering all, a faith in the redemptive powers of writing and books. But even faith gets lost to the mystery-thriller turn of events.
That mystery-thriller turn of events is pretty good. It made my heart beat faster here and there and kept me turning the pages until the end. But there ends up being two books instead of one because of it. Because there are two books neither one gets the ending it deserves. The mystery is not completely solved and I was left wondering what the point of the mystery was to begin with. Nor is the Great Expectations/ faith story resolved, though this is the story the ending tries to fulfill. Unfortunately it relies on the supernatural, something hinted at in various scenes but never brought beyond a vague notion. So when I read the last page I turned to my Bookman who had already read the book and asked him, “what just happened here?”
I know there are probably many who read and loved The Shadow of the Wind who have this book on the shelf. I don’t want you to think you shouldn’t read The Angel’s Game, for the most part I enjoyed it. Read it, but just lower you expectations from great to moderate.