“…what makes a work of fiction safe from larvae and rust is not its social importance but its art, only its art”. — Vladimir Nabokov, 1964
I launched this blog last week with my recommendation of The Shadow of the Wind. I was raving about the author’s use of language. The language, of course, is what creates the art in literature, and it can be expected that many other authors’ prose styles and their different effects will be discussed here in the future. In the meanwhile, let me focus some more on the type of language that made me fall in love with books in a new way: the kind that creates the pure poetic, sensuous pleasure that the reader is immersed in.
The Angel’s Game (2008) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Angel’s Game is the prequel that came out after Shadow of the Wind. While Shadow was a reader’s love letter to books, the prequel puts you in the shoes of an author. A struggling writer of cheap sensationalist novels, David Martin, the narrator, receives an offer from a mysterious man from a nonexistent publisher to write a masterwork that will “change minds”. Accepting the enormous sum of money, David begins to work, only to start experiencing strange and mysterious things happening to and around him. It isn’t hard to see that “the boss” who commissioned him is the devil himself, seeking to deceive the world through a new religion. But, the line between fantasy and reality is blurred so that David, as well as the reader, would start to question his own sanity. Every bit as engaging and splendidly written as Shadows. The lines of prose sparkle off the page. While the horror elements (expect more bodies to drop) and psychological surrealism are intensified, the perfect melodrama, dreamy atmosphere, suspense and sheer beauty that made me love Shadow of the Wind are perfectly intact. Barcelona is ever bleaker, the characters ever more cynical and the dark passions ever more intense. Another flawless translation by Lucia Graves presents the entirety of Ruiz Zafon’s masterful language. The Angel’s Game is a prequel that does not disappoint.
The Book of Flying (2004) by Keith Miller
Chances are you’ve never heard of this book before. I haven’t seen it in any bookstores and there’s one copy amongst all of the Johnson County Libraries, but you can buy it online. It is a true gem, and that makes it all the more charming. Allow me to try to persuade you to read it.
In a magical city by the sea, half of the people are winged and live in ivory towers. Every dawn and dusk, they rise to the sky, “slicing the sky to ribbons with their wings”. The other half, however, do not have wings and live ordinary lives on the ground. The protagonist, Pico, a wingless young man born of winged parents, sets out on a journey to find a mythical town that holds The Book of Flying, which grants its readers the ability of flight. All for trying to gain the heart of the love of his life. Along the journey, he encounters fantastic characters (a robber queen, a minotaur, an immortal cannibal, to name a few) and stories within stories. It’s an enchanting, poetic fairy tale that exalts stories, books and beauty itself. Like Dante’s Divine Comedy, the lessons uncovered along the way are wonderfully rewarding and enriching.
If, by Coleridge’s definitions, prose is words in their best order, and poetry is the best words in their best order, The Book of Flying is a prose piece written as poetry. Every line is a melody and every word fits perfectly. The effect? A splendid blend of emotions (I cried twice) and stories, beauty and lucid images, stirrings of the heart, movings of the mind and the ultimate, ecstatic tingling in your spine that reveals what you’re reading is art.
If I seem overly enthusiastic, it is because I’m talking about the book that would be my Shadow of the Wind had I visited the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. I did my best to persuade you to read it with a blog entry, so now let the book persuade you that I’m right. Enjoy!
I recently had the opportunity to Mr. Keith Miller, the author of The Book of Flying, via email. He has a new novel coming out next year titled The Sins of Angels. His second novel, The Book on Fire (2011), which I haven’t yet (shame on me), is also available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble online.