Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Book beginnings on Friday

I will use this wonderful book for the book beginnings challenge. This one is really wonderful and this is the kind of beginning that captivates me from the first line:

I'll never forget the night it snowed over Calcutta.


Yesterday I was a little tired due to a cold so I decided to spend the day reading (what luxury even if the upper respiratory system is blocked!). I grabbed a book from my TBR shelf since the reader was set for loading! The book I choose is from one of my absolute favourite writers, Carlos Ruiz Zafón. His "The Shadow of the Wind" is a magic book, as is "The Angel's Game". I thought that I picked the third book in the series (although they are all independent books). How wrong was I not! The third book, I have now learned, is called "The Prisoner of Heaven". This turns out to be the second book of two he wrote in the 1990's for Young Adults (the first being "The Prince of Mist"). However that might be, it is certainly a book also for adults.

Ruiz Zafón does not disappoint you. This is just another of his magic books which is written in such beautiful prose that it almost makes you loose the story just for the beauty of the words. There is, as usual in his books, a mystery story that erases the line between real and make believe. It takes place in Calcutta in principal in May 1932, but the book starts 16 years earlier in 1916 when Lieutenant Peake saves newborn twins (a boy, Ben and a girl, Sheere) from an avenger with, what seems like, supernatural powers. He manages to deliver the twins safely to their grandmother before he meets his faith. To protect the children the grandmother leaves the boy with an orphanage run by a friend of the family. Ben grows up there and 16 years later when the orphans are considered grown ups and have to leave the place the story continues.

Seven of the children in the orphanage created their own secret society called Chowbar Society and there meetings take place in a deserted, derelict house they call the Midnight Palace. It is a very tight group and for these orphaned children they only have each other. They know they will meet for the last time on the eve before they all have to leave the orphanage for a new life on the outside. This is the same eve as the grandmother visits the orphanage with her niece to speak to the director and to reveal the identity of the boy she left with him 16 years earlier. The niece, while waiting for her grandmother, meets the other youngsters and the ball has been set in motion. How little do the group know what the near future bears in mind and how their loyalty to each other will be stretched to the very limit.


The avenger from the past returns with a vengeance and it is clear that he is after the twins. You never know exactly what it wants, who it is or what it is until the very end. The youngsters are forced to help Ben and Sheere to first of all understand the threat and then to get away from it.  They have to look at the past to reveal the present,  search in archives, find forgotten places and when the grandmother finally reveals the whole story the final revelation awaits them at the place where their parents died 16 years earlier.

Being Ruiz Zafón you are taken to a place where the past is interfering in the present. It borders on the real world and a supernatural world where the lines are sometimes very thin or not visible at all. As usual he manages to create a magic place with his cast of people and their actions, buildings with a soul of their own as well as the appearance of beings you don't really know if they are real or not. Although he has set the story in a different place he manages to create the same dreamy existence in Calcutta as he does in his books about Barcelona.

This is a sample from the first introduction:

I'll never forget the night it snowed over Calcutta. The calendar at St Patrick's Orphanage was inching towards the final days of May 1932, leaving behind one of the hottest months ever recorded in the city of palaces.
With each passing day we felt sadder and more fearful of the approaching summer, when we would all turn sixteen, for this would mean our separation and the end of the Chowbar Society, the secret club of seven members that had been our refuge during our years at the orphanage. We had grown up there with no other family than ourselves, with no other memories than the stories we told in the small hours round an open fire in the courtyard of an abandoned mansion - a large rambling ruin which stood on the corner of Cotton Street and Brabourne Road and which we'd christened the Midnight Palace. At the time, I didn't know I would never again see the streets of my childhood, the city whose spell has haunted me to this day. 

and the end of the introduction:

It will not be easy and I beg my readers to forgive my inadequate words as I attempt to salvage that dark Calcutta summer from the past. I have done my best to reconstruct the truth, to return to those troubled days that would inevitably shape our future. All that is left for me now is to take my leave and allow the facts to speak for themselves.
I'll never forget the fear on the faces of my friends the night it snowed in Calcutta. But, as Ben used to tell me, the best place to start a story is at the beginning...


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