Cover illustration by: Matt Duffin
The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 6 of 5 stars
Series: The Cemetery of Forgotten Books (Book #4 of 4)
Genre: Historical fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Translated Edition Published: 2018 by Weidenfield & Nicholson, Orion Books (UK) & Harper (US)
The Labyrinth of the Spirits is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It has it all – evocative history, engrossing mystery, atmospheric setting, compelling characters, incredible emotional depth – wrapped up in writing so beautiful that it moves your soul.
“Stories have no beginning and no end, only doors through which one may enter them.”
I finished reading this book earlier last week and before I had the opportunity to pen my review in praise of such magnificence, I was shocked by the news of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s passing. With just this quartet, Zafón became one of my favourite authors, and The Cemetery of Forgotten one of my all-time favourite series. I was so affected by his passing which occurred so soon after I’ve finished the last book he has written; and what a masterpiece it was. The world has truly lost an incredible talent and is now duller with his absence.
“A labyrinth of shimmering forms ascended towards an immense glass dome. Moonlight, split into a thousand blades, poured down from up high and threw into relief the seemingly impossible geometry of a spell made of up all the books, all the stories, and all the dreams in the world.”
In my review for The Prisoner of Heaven, I’ve mentioned that interconnected narrative threads were starting to come together for the characters we’ve met since the first book. In this final book, these labyrinthian threads come together in a magnificent tapestry that tells an incredibly engrossing and moving story. A story about the intertwined lives of these people, of how they were affected by the Spanish Civil War and the regime under General Franco, and of how books and its stories indelibly impact their lives, both readers and writers. Presenting the narrative in the form of both a mystery and thriller set in an atmospheric historical setting was a stroke of brilliance, which was realised with Zafón’s masterful storytelling and exceptional writing.
“People live inside their hopes, but the landlord of fate is the devil.”
The binding threads throughout the series were The Sempere & Sons bookshop (and by extension, the Sempere family) and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Daniel and his father, his wife, Beatriz and Fermìn continue to feature heavily in the final book as the story traverses back in time for a while to the Civil War. The story introduced a new main character here, Alicia Gris, an orphan survivor of the war which left her partially broken and in constant pain. Her characterisation was almost as spellbinding as that of David Martìn’s. There’s something inexplicably captivating about broken and tragic characters, and Alicia was definitely one of those. As the story comes to a close here, I will refrain from mentioning more. What I will say is that the closure was brilliantly executed. While the author mentioned that the books could be read in any order, I strongly suggest to follow the publication sequence for maximum impact.
“This is where tragedies and romances began and ended, as did escapes and returns, betrayals and absences. Life, some said, is a railway station where one almost always enters, or get put into, the wrong carriage.”
The entire series gave me one of the most emotionally charged reading experiences I’ve ever had, but Zafón truly saved the best for last. My heart ached so much that it was sore and tender by the time I finished the book. However, it was not all sorrow and grief, and because of the rarity of such reprieve, those beautiful and touching moments no matter how small were rendered ever more precious. I also could not deny the allure of books about books, and the magical quality of books and stories that permeated through these was positively enchanting.
“The memories we bury under mountains of silence are the ones that never stop haunting us.”
Speaking of being enchanted, I have to talk about the beauty of the prose again. Zafón’s writing and Graves’ translation seemed to work magic on the emotions of the reader. To me, beautiful prose is not about being flowery or purple, but writing that emotes and speaks to one’s soul. There’s a musical quality to it that worked in cadences and tones to convey the heart and soul of the story. And even though I’ve not read many classics yet, I think that Zafón had achieved for post-Civil War Spain what Dickens had done for Victorian England. His writing, however, was more attuned to the modern reader with the added appeal of bibliophilia as a central theme.
“Tell our stories to the world, and never forget that we exist so long as someone remembers us.”
With storytelling almost as perfect as it could be, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books was simply too memorable to be forgotten. Highly, highly recommended to all readers.