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A far reaching epic novel of Franco’s Spain

14th August 2019

The Labyrinth of Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón – a far reaching epic novel of Franco’s Spain.

A far reaching epic novel of Franco's Spain

The Labyrinth of Spirits is the fourth (and latest) book in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. The books feature many of the same characters, but they are all stand alone and can be read in any order. The Labyrinth of Spirits is a very difficult book to classify… Yes, it is a very well-worked and convincing literary thriller (with much blood and violence). But it is also an historical novel covering Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, as well as a family saga across several generations. The edition I read was 800 pages long – so plenty of room to develop all three! But I would absolutely urge you not to be put off by the length. It is a totally absorbing read, written by a master story-teller. The characters – many of whom are flawed – are all convincingly drawn. The wording is beautifully rendered.

Alicia who, as a young girl was nearly killed in a bombing raid on Barcelona by Franco’s forces, is now working as a member of a somewhat shadowy investigative branch of the government. She works alongside the police, but is not police. Her boss presents as an uncle-like character – but he is far from that. A senior-ish member of the government disappears in mysterious circumstances, and he is a man with a past. She tracks him from Madrid to Barcelona, but there the trail goes cold. It is now the 1950s, but her investigations take her back into events of the 1930s. She and her police partner are followed round Barcelona by mysterious figures – they are not the only ones intent on finding the runaway.

This investigation runs alongside the family narrative. When she was very young Alicia was taken by her father to a bookshop – Sempere & Sons – which she remembers fondly. She revisits the shop and inveigles her way into the Sempere family during her stay in Barcelona. Julian, the very young son of the current owner, is particularly take by her. She is badly wounded in the course of her investigation, and the family look after her – keeping her safe from those who wish her harm. They are all in considerable danger. Who, if anyone, can Alicia trust? People are not perhaps what and who they seem to be.

The book moves to a very satisfactory, and bloody, conclusion in which many loose ends are tied together. History and the ‘present day’ come together.

The Labyrinth of Spirits is a story set very firmly in Franco’s Spain. The intrigue, the corruption, and the brutality are all there. In TripFiction terms it is an excellent read. The book is mainly set in Barcelona of the 1950s, which is very well described. Many of the buildings and streets mentioned will familiar to those who travel there today. The book also starts off in Madrid, and returns there for a spell near the end. Again, the surroundings will be familiar to anyone who has visited.

As I said at the beginning, The Labyrinth of Spirits is a hard book to classify – but it is a quite brilliant and absorbing read.

Tony for the TripFiction team

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