As summer wends its way slowly toward autumn my reading becomes more gothic. It feels as natural as the progression of the seasons, I suppose. While waiting for the turn I’d been holding onto Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind. Not having read any Zafón before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My copy had been blurbed by Stephen King, and I figured that was pretty high praise. I found the book through one of my web searches for the most gothic novels and this one takes a while, but I can see why it makes some of those lists. I wasn’t sure at first if it was intended to be comic or serious, but that combination is an imitation of life itself. We laugh, we cry, we shudder.
The story slowly builds, and I’ll address this further on Goodreads. What I want to consider here is the nature of place. Human beings—and I would argue animals as well—have a sense of place. Space becomes sacred through events both dramatic and quotidian. That’s why we make pilgrimages to places where our heroes lived. Just to be there. To think about it. To feel it. The Shadow of the Wind is a story of Barcelona during a time of war. There’s no escaping the moody sense of old Europe in this tale. In that sense religion is quite often casually mentioned. It’s part of place in a way many Americans overlook. The church bells I can hear everyday beg to differ, no matter how empty the pews may be. Zafón wants to share his gothic Barcelona with a story that leads to real shivers.
It would be a stretch to call this a horror novel, but it is in the sense that V. C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic is. It reminded me at several points of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (my copy of which was destroyed in a flooded garage). Many lives, I suspect, have quiet gothic elements to them. I know that mine does. While there may be a little supernatural at work in The Shadow of the Wind, most of the action is believable. This is the way people behave. The way they treat, and mistreat one another. While the days are still hot around here, the angle of the sun in the sky doesn’t lie. We’re fast approaching the equinox from which we’ll slide into the long nights of winter. And reading, the more gothic the better, will help us make it through no matter where we are.