Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

marinaMarina. The simple book title reminds me of one of my favourite classics, Rebecca. However, in no way are these two books similar, apart from both of them being gothic tales. Marina is a gothic tale, but unlike Rebecca, it has elements of horror in it. I would call it a gothic horror. Before you decide to stop reading, I promise that until Zafón releases a fourth installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten books series, this is my last Zafón review…

The story plays off in the 1980’s and starts off where Oscar Drai, a 15 year old boy vanishes from his boarding school – for seven days. Where was he? The story actually starts at the end, and what happened prior to his disappearance is the story of how Oscar met Marina, a story centered around life, love and death. The officer who found him at the train station said “People only disappear when they have somewhere to go” and Oscar had somewhere he needed to be…

Oscar loved to take strolls after school and one such afternoon he came across a dilapidated mansion. Thinking it was abandoned, Oscar sneaked around the property, but then he heard opera music coming from inside the house and he decided to go in.  He later fled out of the house with a pocket watch in his hand and ran back to the boarding school where he arrived gasping for breath and told his best friend what happened.

This is almost how I imagined the house to look like  photo credit
This is almost how I imagined the house to look like
photo credit

He decides to return the pocket watch and at this point I agreed with his friend who though him crazy. Why go back to that house!? He met Marina that day, as well as her father German, who is a portrait painter.  The way the house and its surroundings are described, it sure makes you feel that there is something macabre going on, but there isn’t. In fact, that day Oscar met the two people who would soon become his family.

One day, Marina took him to the cemetery to show him something weird: That on the fourth Sunday of every month, a woman hooded in black, comes to the cemetery to visit an unmarked grave and leaves behind a single rose. Curiosity got the better of the two and they decide to follow this woman, who led them into a green house where weird things started to happen. They came across a creepy collection of mechanical toys and an old photograph album that contained photos of nightmarish creatures – deformed humans, “God’s forgotten children”, freaks of nature…

However, that is not the worst. What follows is the story of the man who I can only describe as the woman in black’s object of devotion. We learn how the mechanical creatures that Oscar and Marina had found in the greenhouse came about being and why they take on a life of their own. Although this was in essence a story about life, love and death, as I’ve mentioned above, it is also a story about madness. This novel, I found to be a dark and twisted gothic tale and yet I enjoyed it! It had me in suspense and dread, and yet I found it to be a page-turner. I had to force myself one evening to stop reading, or else I would have nightmares…

Don’t let that put you off though, because I’m a big chicken and it doesn’t take much to scare me. There are other parts of the story, about Marina and German (one of the main reasons for Oscar’s disappearance), that I left out purposely, because I think this is a book that you should consider reading! Zafon’s descriptions of the scenes are frightening and obviously well-done, as is his description of the setting – Barcelona, Spain.  In his previous 3 YA novels he took us to an unnamed location in The Prince of Mist, to India in The Midnight Palace and to France in The Watcher in the Shadows, but in Marina he takes his YA readers to his beloved Barcelona in the 1980s: The setting and town we came to love in The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven.  Zafon mentions in his preface that Marina is his favourite and it is my favourite too, atleast from his YA fiction novels!

Some memorable quotes:

“We are doomed to remember what never really happened”

“Although I could hear the echo of my footsteps, I could have sworn I was walking a few centimeters above the ground”

“Patience is the mother of all virtues and the godmother of madness”

“The public will always choose a warmed-up lie over the cold truth”

“Time does to the body what stupidity does to the soul”

“Our body begins to destroy itself from the moment it is born. We are fragile. We’re creatures of passage. All that is left of us are our actions, the good or the evil we do to our fellow humans”

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