Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind is one of my two favourite novels. The other is The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. On the surface, these novels appear to have little in common – one is quest Fantasy, set in a mythical world, the other is a coming-of-age story set in 1940’s Spain. Where they’re similar, though, is in their origins and the reasons they were written.
Tolkien originally wrote The Hobbit for his children, a tale of adventure and hijinks meant to entertain and excite them. I much prefer it to The Lord of the Rings for its brevity, for its ability to get to the point and tell a story for storytelling’s sake.
I once saw young adult (YA) novels described as (and I’m paraphrasing) ‘Adult novels without all the crap’. I thought this a rather apt description of the oft-maligned publishing category. Though I’m ultimately a reader of adult novels, I’m drawn to YA for its hungry veracity to lay the story out before its audience, to cut out all the nuance and posturing and let the reader into its secrets, to reward them quickly for their commitment. It’s like a moped to a motorcycle: simple, little stress the reader, but ultimately enjoyable.
I like to think of The Shadow of the Wind as an evolution of this style of storytelling. It’s more drawn out than typical YA, with much of that extraneous fat and muscle added back on, but Zafon was able to draw on his experience writing YA and apply what he’d learned to craft a story that was as fable-like as the best YA. From a small cast of characters, to a youthful, zesty voice, to its ability and willingness to question the world, The Shadow of the Wind is a YA Adult novel grown up. This bumbling, awkward kid’s turned into a sophisticated gentleman.
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