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The Labyrinth of the Spirits, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

30 November 2018

Christopher Lawrence concludes a rich saga

THE Labyrinth of the Spirits brings Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s broad sweeping saga of Barcelona under the shadow of the Franco regime to a deeply satisfying conclusion.

It is a love letter to the timeless world of Barcelona and its people. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, the fabulous repository from the opening book, The Shadow of the Wind, sits at its slowly beating heart in the labyrinthine Gothic Quarter. It is a palimpsest bearing the traces of all who pass through, its books choosing and marking those who enter.

Zafón purposefully welds together a wealth of influences and styles to reflect the many-faceted strands of his story and the tapestry of the Cemetery itself. The Dickensian complexity of plots, subplots, and richness of characters is matched by the skill with which all the details are pulled deftly together. This is the endgame, the destination for the characters and stories of the saga’s first three instalments, bringing sense and closure at the last.

Alicia Gris, a new protagonist, falls, like her Lewis Carroll namesake — through the crystal roof of the Cemetery on the night of the Civil War bombing of Barcelona by the Italian air force. Under the tutelage of her Svengali, Leandro, her mission is to seek out and destroy everything that the Cemetery and those who love it depend on.

For her, a child of the Cemetery, however, it becomes a place of refuge, rebirth, and redemption. She becomes the instrument that works to protect the Cemetery, the Sempere bookshop, its community, and the writers and literature that these enshrine. The pen at one critical point is shown to be mightier than the sword, as the old order vanquishes the forces of darkness at the heart of Franco’s Falangist Spain.

The saga is an exploration of the positive and destructive forces of love. The love of books, family, place, friends; the selfless love that is so evident in the Sempere family circle; and the sacrificial love that Alicia comes to understand and that the Civil War survivor Fermin embodies. The counterpart is the destructive love of self, power, and control which possesses Valls, Leandro, and Hendaya, embodying the cruel heart of post-Civil War Spain.

Lucia Graves’s fine and sensitive translation exquisitely captures the many voices, traditions, and inflections, giving those who have no Spanish an authentic sense and experience of the richness and beauty of Zafón’s literary odyssey.

Christopher Lawrence is a retired international partner in Price Waterhouse Cooper.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits
Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Lucia Graves, translator
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £20
Church House Bookshop £18

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