Posted by: billpurdue | May 11, 2014

A supposed ghost story and a mystery set in the time of Franco

My next book, “The Inn at the Edge of the World”, by Alice Thomas Ellis (1932-2005), began on the first page really well, I thought: the landlord of a pub on a remote island off the coast of Scotland wonders how he might murder his wife whilst trying to think of marketing strategies to boost his faltering business. The landlord is originally from Telford (Shropshire) and has brought his flirtatious wife, Mabel, to this remote part of the world to try and modify her inclinations, but the move backfires. As Christmas isn’t too far off, he decides to advertise a sort of ‘get away from Christmas at Christmastime’ short break in the hope he might attract a few more guests. His wife has other ideas and, as the guests arrive on the island, she leaves for the bright lights.

Cover of The Inn at the Edge of the World by Alice Thomas Ellis

The list of guests who travel from the other end of Britain is interesting: a young actress, Jessica, who has had a number of failed relationships, a bit part actor who is determined to get nearer to Jessica, a psychoanalyst whose wife has just walked out on him, Anita, in charge of the stationery section of a department store and Harry, an ex-military man about to write a biography of General Gordon. These together with the landlord, his handy man and cook, and the few regular local clientele of the pub make up the ‘cast’ of the story, whilst Mabel enjoys herself in the big city.

 

If you ask me what happened in the plot, then I wouldn’t be able to give you much of an idea – the guests interact with each other and the few locals that frequent the pub, including the “professor” who seems to bring a new girl along every night. Some of the guests see strange people out in the inhospitable weather, but not a lot is made of this – these are supposed to be the Selkies , or seal people.

 

I’m afraid this book was hard work – I found myself starting other books whilst I was supposed to be reading this one. I didn’t feel that much really happened until we got near the end, when all of a sudden it livened up. Other reviews have been mixed – some raved about it, but others wondered if they would really recommend it to their friends. From all accounts this is not as good as some of Alice Thomas Ellis’s other novels, so I’ll leave it to you to decide whether to have a go.

A better bet for a good read

Events in Spain around the time of the Second World War and during the reign of General Franco are not something I know much about, but this is the era in which “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is set. The plot is quite involved and the action is spread over several years with more than one narrator, but don’t let this put you off.

Shadow-paper

It begins when the young Daniel Sempere, not quite a teenager, is taken by his father, a bookseller, to choose a book of his own from the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’, a sort of book depository for all those books that people aren’t reading any more. The book he chooses is called “The Shadow of the Wind” by a certain Julián Carax. The career and the whereabouts of Julián are something of a mystery and Daniel gradually discovers that he isn’t the only one who would like to know more about Carax. To begin with there is the strange character, whose presence is always betrayed by the odour of smoke, called Laín Coubert, who offers Daniel a large sum of money for the book, but Daniel refuses. As Daniel continues his investigations, he attracts the attention of a corrupt and brutal police chief, Fumero, who is also intent on tracing the whereabouts of Carax.

 

The plot takes many twists and turns and from time to time there are sections narrated by other than the main character as Daniel continues his investigations. Daniel is assisted by Fermin Romero de Torres, a man whom he rescues from homelessness as he had helped Daniel in a sticky situation. Daniel’s life becomes increasingly interlinked with that of Carax, though the whereabouts and true identity of Carax are not revealed until near the end. In fact the reader is kept guessing about a number of things right up until that last few pages. It seems a sad and desperate tale, but – spoiler alert! – it does have a happy ending. It’s one of those books that, once you have finished reading it, leaves a gap that has to be filled by another good story. Highly recommended.

 

And if you want to know what happens to Daniel, his new wife and Fermin, you need to read “The Prisoner of Heaven”. Have a look at the author’s website for details of the new English translation of his book “Marina”, which he wrote before “Shadow of the Wind”

 

 

 

 

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