The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon (2001/2004)

Long book requiring only a short comment. The blurbs invoke Borges, Dickens, Eco, Garcia Marquez, and Hugo, among others. This is misleading, to put it mildly. What we do have here is a long and convoluted plot with a cast of dozens, in which three separate narratives–the story of a writer, the story of his novel, and the story of one particularly inquisitive reader–are (very) gradually revealed to be three variations on a single narrative.

Borges because there’s a giant library of forgotten books and because the line between the imaginary and the real gets blurry. Dickens because the main character’s a motherless kid coming of age who’s helped by one-dimensionally generous characters and hindered by one-dimensionally evil characters and because it’s really, really long. Eco because it’s a mystery with literary pretensions and because it’s really, really long. Garcia-Marquez because there are some slightly magical realist elements and some extremely complicated family trees. Hugo because there’s a horribly disfigured self-loathing tortured artist. So fair play to you, blurbers, fair play, but you neglect to add that the book’s also overwritten, occasionally purplish, and frequently downright sloppy in its repetitions and lapses in both narrative and psychological consistency.

All in all, a good airplane book, especially if you’re flying somewhere pretty far away, like Mars.