Title: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Genre: Fiction / historical fiction
Rating: did not finish
I got this book for Christmas, and when I wanted to start reading aloud to Peter again after a somewhat lengthy break due to last semester, this was the obvious choice. We started on it late in 2016, so it was not part of the “books I’m drawn to” challenge.
As much as I wanted to like it and as much as it seemed promising in some ways, and we both liked it in the beginning, we decided to throw the towel in due to the tiring sexism of the author.
First, some good things: The writing is, as many others have noted, rich and descriptive. This could be a positive or a negative depending on your personal tastes, of course, but for the most part, I think it worked well for the novel and it did help evoke Barcelona and give a sense of the mood. I also liked the somewhat slow pacing, which seemed to be building toward a good mystery. I liked that it seemed like an intricate story.
But in the end (well, at about the 1/3 mark), the sexism was just too pervasive and too pointless. Peter kept interjecting, “Are you highlighting this? You need to highlight this for your review!!” It was just really in your face. I was surprised that so many people gave it such high ratings and rave reviews considering this aspect of the book, so I googled it; a few other reviewers agree that it was sexist, but there’s also quite a few people who say it’s not sexist because of “the time and place” it depicts. But that’s not really a valid argument or how that kind of thing works. It wasn’t that the book depicted sexism or a sexist time period, it was that the author (writing in 2001) decided to portray women in a sexist and misogynist way. It’s perfectly possible to write about the sexism of the times without reproducing it yourself. This book was not commenting on or highlighting sexism of the time in a self-aware way; women characters in the book were empty shells, and they were only referenced through their sex appeal or lack thereof. They weren’t agents in their own life. Just to make my point some more, here is a list books that not only depict a time period prior to the time period of this book but were actually written before the time period this book depicts; they are all less sexist in their portrayal of women than this book is: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Persuasion by Jane Austen, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy… and the list goes on. Many of these books do have sexist portrayals, and some of them are more self-aware about it than others (for example, Dracula used sexist stereotypes in telling its story but they didn’t rise to the level of misogyny that this book sometimes does, whereas I feel The Scarlet Letter definitely contained sexism but was actually more of a critique on it). Nevertheless, they were all less offensive on the gender front than this book.
Anyway, the word I used to describe the sexism here was “tiring,” and that’s why we decided to stop. I encounter sexism in many books I read and can often still enjoy a book that contains it. But with this book, we could hardly get through a single short chapter without unnecessary evaluations of women’s breasts (while men’s physical features do get described, it’s not with the same tone), or silly and vacuous women that are just there for male characters to use, easily outsmart or bend to their will, fantasize about, etc.
I can see how some people would enjoy this book, but the misogyny wore both Peter and me down after a while. I just read this review aloud to Peter before publishing it, and he said, “Can you use the word saturated in there? And the word skeevy?” …As in, this book is saturated with skeevy sexism. ;D