Monday, December 05, 2005

Influencing the Mainstream

I have just read, and thoroughly enjoyed, a "Richard and Judy Book Club" choice, Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. A book about books; and that's what attracted it to me. It was a pleasure to read it; wild and exotic cast of characters; a "story within a story" structure; an evocation of its setting, Barcelona; and a taut plot - albeit of the shaggy dog variety. There are "reading notes" at the back of my copy (!) but it doesn't mention as further reading the book it owes most to, Italo Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveller; and before that - Borges - and it struck me that its the 2nd mainstream bestseller I've read this year which has Calvino and Borges as models, the other being David Mitchell's excellent "Cloud Atlas." You read a book like the Calvino and immediately wonder why so many other novels offer so little; have so little ambition - and I'd like to think that both Mitchell and Ruiz Zafon feel the same way, and have written exciting, entertaining novels with that firmly in mind. That both books are "bestsellers" and have attracted a mainstream audience (and have pleased such a hard-to-please reader as myself) seems to imply a growing up of audiences; the reading public isn't always in their early 20s; and well written novels, with a mix of the traditional (story - characters - plot!) and the inventive, are actually what we all want. If you've read writers like Calvino and Borges then these novels don't seem to be pale copies; but grateful homages - not the works of masters, but works of those who appreciate what the masters can bring. The Shadow of the Wind is translated into English by Lucia Graves, daughter of the poet Robert Graves; and I was pleased to see, as I left it at the side of my bed last night that it sat cheek and jowl with "The White Goddess" - somewhat appropriate for a novel so in love with books.

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