Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Lost manuscripts, hidden libraries, and antiquarian bookshops with dollops of mystery … Bibliothrillers anyone? PART 3

After The Shadow in the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon wrote two more novels, The Angel’s Game, whose English translation came out in 2009, and The Prisoner of Heaven in 2011.  While The Angel’s Game is a prequel to The Shadow in the Wind, The Prisoner of Heaven is the sequel to The Shadow in the Wind.  I saw The Angel’s Game at Hyderabad Airport in 2010 and bought it with ‘great expectations.’  Here we have a young writer in an abandoned mansion in Barcelona churning out sensational novels.  While he uses a pseudonym for these lurid novels, he aspires to be a writer acknowledged for his literary skills.  The mansion has its own hidden secrets and Barcelona provides the backdrop.  The writer’s struggle continues until he receives an offer to write a book ‘with the power to change hearts and minds.’  Of course, you have books, booksellers, publishers, authors, paper, and ink pervading the novel.  While The Shadow of the Wind was fresh and luminous and haunting, this novel appears be doing too much.  It is quite possible that the shadow of The Shadow was too large for this novel to emerge from.  I haven’t read The Prisoner of Heaven yet.  Here, the young boy and girl in The Shadow grow up and get married here and all is well until … one day a mysterious man arrives at their bookshop looking for … a rare copy of a novel by Alexandre Dumas … and then things start moving … or so I read …

The bibliothriller that I read more recently was Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (2012).  In this book you not only have a curious sounding name of the bookstore, but also ‘familiar’ things like an old bookshop with dusty books on shelves, the enigmatic and laconic Mr Penumbra, who runs the store, and strange customers!  The customers are few and far between, but none of them seem to buy any books.  They do, however, borrow obscure books from the bookstore in consultation with Mr Penumbra.  An out-of-work web-designer takes up the night-shift job at the bookstore and is initially bored by the lack of activity in the bookstore.  As days go by he feels that everything is not as boring and bland as it appears in the bookstore and that something is going on.  He starts paying attention to the customers, the books they borrow, jots down the details, and puts together a sort of pattern.  He wants to know what is going on behind all this blandness.  Is the store a front for something else? He seeks help from his friends and uses their knowledge and skill in computers and software and discovers secrets that go beyond the quiet and dusty interiors of the bookstore!      
Robin Sloan went on to write a prequel to Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore in 2013 named Ajax Penumbra 1969.  I haven’t read this novel so far, but from what I read about it, the novel is the story of Mr Penumbra and how he came to head the 24-hour bookstore.  Again, there appears to be a lost book, which seems to have to power to bestow fortune as well as wreak havoc, and Mr Penumbra has to locate it.  And like the earlier Penumbra novel, there also appears to be elements of modern technology that help in the search for the lost book and maybe more … 

(One more small post on Bibliothrillers and I am done ... promise ... !!)

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