Friday, September 2, 2011

The Midnight Palace -- Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Calcutta, 1916: A British officer sacrifices himself to save two babies from an evil figure determined to wipe their entire bloodline out of existence.

The twins are then separated in an effort to keep their identities a secret.

Calcutta, 1932: The day the twins turn sixteen, it is immediately obvious that that effort was All For Naught.

Jawahal is coming for them, and he's coming for them now.

The Midnight Palace will appeal to young fans of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King: It's a small-ish audience, yes, but it exists. I know it does. I, after all, was (and still am) one of its members. I grew up loving Bradbury's short stories and novels—especially the fantasy—and even though they were quieter, more subtle, harder going and scarier than some of the other books I read growing up, I always went back to them.

I think I'd have liked this book more wholeheartedly if I'd read it then.

No, The Midnight Palace won't be for everyone.

I've still got mixed feelings about it myself.

It's atmospheric, muffled, and claustrophobic. Which I liked. 

The characters are likable and interesting, but there are so many of them and it's such a short book that they never really become more than names. Which I didn't.

Like some of Stephen King's crossover fiction, it's a framed narrative: The story is being told, years later, by one of the people who lived through it. It's a hard technique to pull off, at the very least in terms of tension, because it requires the reader to forget about the age of the narrator. And because oftentimes, the voice of an older narrator telling the story of his younger self sounds like what he is: An adult remembering his youth, rather than sounding like himself as a youth. Like Stephen King, Ruiz Zafón doesn't fall into that trap: His young characters sound and act like young characters.

Unfortunately, also like much of Stephen King's work, the storyline goes and goes and goes until the climax... which ends up feeling hurried and anti-climactic.

Despite a lot of running around by the protagonists and some serious horror-movie action, it never feels fast-paced. It offers answers to its own mysteries—sort of—but the answers will produce almost as many questions as they answer, and the answers that are offered are... not necessarily satisfying. Both of those qualities could work for or against the book: I sometimes like mysteries to remain somewhat unresolved, but I know that I'm in the minority about that!

Although Carlos Ruiz Zafón is best known in the United States for his adult books, he actually started his career writing for younger readers. The Midnight Palace was his second book published in Spain, but his fourth to be translated into English. As I said when I wrote about his first YA book, The Prince of Mist, it's clear from the book itself that he has a profound respect for his audience. So I was happy to see this quote on his website, because it backed me up!:

Writing for the young, or the young at heart, is a risky business and I learned that teenagers are a notoriously demanding and honest audience.

TL;DR: Likely to appeal to young fans of Stephen King and Ray Bradbury, but even that isn't a sure thing.



The Prince of Mist


Book source: ILLed through my library.


Crossposted at Bookshelves of Doom.

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