Ruiz Zafón brings his sprawling Cemetery of Forgotten Books tetralogy to a close that throws in everything but the kitchen sink, but that somehow works.
It’s a very nice touch—spoiler alert—that the female lead of Ruiz Zafón’s latest should use a pen to do in a bad guy in a spectacularly gruesome way: “He collapsed instantly,” he writes gleefully, “like a puppet whose strings had been severed, his trembling body stretched out over the books.” Books are everywhere, of course, inasmuch as this story begins and ends in the hands of the bookseller Daniel Sempere Gispert, who, as ever, is caught up in stories that are in part of his own devising and in part the product of other storytellers—altogether very Cervantesque, that. The story begins in the crucible of the Spanish Civil War, when a very young Alicia Gris, that female lead, comes into the orbit of Fermín Romero de Torres, himself a bookish fellow who connects to Alicia immediately through her love of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “Anything to do with falling down a hole and bumping into madmen and mathematical problems is something I consider highly autobiographic,” he tells her. Fermín harbors secrets: As readers of earlier volumes will know, he has been imprisoned as a spy in Franco’s jails, and a certain jailer who has risen in the ranks of the postwar Nationalist government is due for some payback—retribution that involves, yes, books and writers and literary clues and all manner of puzzles. Ruiz Zafón clearly has had a great deal of fun in pulling this vast story together, and if one wishes for a little of the tightness of kindred spirit Arturo Perez-Reverte, his ability to keep track of a thousand threads while, in the end, celebrating the power of storytelling is admirable. Take that pen, for instance, which “is like a cat—it only follows the person who will feed it.” Even, it seems, if that food is vitreous fluid….
A satisfying conclusion to a grand epic that, of course, will only leave its fans wanting more.