Mysteries of Barcelona

This is one of those books that makes me glad I have access to ARC's through Vine. Very likely I wouldn't have gotten around to reading it this year even if someone gave me a copy and insisted I read it. And that would have been a pity because this is a very entertaining book.

It's the story of David Martin, a writer of pulp fiction in 1920s Barcelona. He loves books and loves creating stories, in fact that's all he really wants to do. He's so entranced by stories that he doesn't actively live his own life. A series of events sets everything he values beyond his reach: his best friend, the woman he adores, the work he loves, even his own future. Into this situation comes the mysterious Andreas Corelli with a proposition: write a book for me.

There is a strong whiff of both the Gothic and the supernatural here. Think the Mysteries of Udolfo. This is great story telling, but it's even better scene-writing. The dialogue is witty, sometimes laugh out loud witty. The central ideas - art as the repository of the artists soul, the nature of faith and the essence of friendship - are far from trivial. The most compelling part of the story for me was the friendship between David and the girl he unwillingly takes on as his apprentice, Isabella. The bond between them is so effortlessly drawn and yet so palpable. It's rare to see a male-female friendship portrayed so honestly, so reverently in popular fiction today. The translator deserves special recognition as well, this never feels like a "translated" work yet it retains a distinctive sensibility.

As much as I like this book, I recognize it isn't for everyone. If you don't like old school Gothic this won't be for you. If you want an ending with everything answered, this may leave you dissatisfied. But if want a well-written wild ride with nuggets of genuine insight about fiction and story-telling, this is a book you should read.

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