13 Dec / Five More (Audiobooks) to Go: Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Labyrinth of the Spirits, read by Daniel Weyman [in The Booklist Reader]
The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and read by Daniel Weyman
Casting a male narrator for a novel featuring a female protagonist might initially seem like a bad idea, but actor Daniel Weyman (who also narrated Zafón’s Marina) makes sure Alicia Gris, the star of this stupendous, well-worth-the-wait finale of Zafón’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books tetralogy, is well heard. Anglicized by Lucia Graves (Zafón’s translator of choice), Labyrinth introduces Alicia, who is determined to abandon the business of hunting human beings. By age 29, she’s witnessed far too much horror, but she agrees to a final assignment: investigating the disappearance of Spain’s Minister of Culture. The case soon intersects with heinous secrets of the Franco regime, which lead Alicia to the Semperes, a family familiar with Alicia’s deceased parents.
Throughout, Weyman is a tireless (this audiobook clocks in at a whopping 28 hours!), exacting collaborator, embracing all manner of characters – from monstrous evildoers and innocent children to desperate victims and grieving parents – with addictive, energetic aplomb. His crisp British English, embellished with his delightfully expressive peninsular Spanish accent, provides the consummate – and sadly final – portal into the legendary Cemetery of (never-to-be) Forgotten Books.
Lucky for bibliophiles everywhere, Zafón’s internationally bestselling series includes two venerable literary institutions: Sempere & Sons bookshop, and of course, the titular Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a secret library accessible to a select few lucky book lovers. The titles below feature even more hidden libraries, so prepare to peek, eavesdrop, and let your imagination run wild.
The Cemetery of Forgotten Books (series) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The Angel’s Game read by Dan Stevens
The Prisoner of Heaven read by Peter Kenny
The Shadow of the Wind read by Jonathan Davis
If Labyrinth is your introduction to the Cemetery tetralogy, you’re definitely going to want to listen to the other titles in the series. I suggest these two reading paths for catching up:
- Listen to the books in the order they were published: The Shadow of the Wind first, then The Angel’s Game, “The Rose of Fire” (you’ll have to read this one; no audiobook is available), and The Prisoner of Heaven.
- Listen chronologically by narrative: Start with “The Rose of Fire” (in print), then listen to Angel, ;Shadow, and Prisoner.
For newbies, I suggest going chronologically. After all, why know more before you need to? And if you choose to listen to the audiobooks (highly recommended!), you’ll find Peter Kenny is the best for his diverse characterizations, Jonathan Davis feels a wee bit subdued in comparison, and Dan Steves is the most memorable, purely because of his star factor (he played Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey).
Zafón’s short story, “The Rose of Fire,” explains the 15th-century origins of the eponymous “Cemetery” and introduces the literary Sempere family. The Angel’s Game then fast-forwards to the 1920s, where David Martín has survived a brutal childhood, finding refuge only in the Sempere & Sons bookshop. He starts writing newspaper articles about grisly murders, then moves on to writing horrific fiction, which is published under a pseudonym. When the single title that bears his true name is ignominiously dismissed, David begins to write a new book – and soon receives a shockingly lucrative foreign publishing contract. Then the real-life murders begin … and multiply.
Almost three decades later, in The Shadow of the Wind, readers find Daniel Sempere on a quest of his own. After discovering a Julián Carax’s novel, also titled The Shadow of the Wind, Daniel learns that his copy is one of the last Carax books in the world. It seems someone is burning Carax titles, and Daniel determines to find Carax himself. A few years later, in The Prisoner of Heaven, Daniel is both a husband and father. He’s always trusted his close friend and employee, Fermín Romero de Torres. However, when a wealthy customer is revealed to be using Fermín’s name as his own, Daniel is shaken. Ultimately, a confession from the real – or is he? – Fermín returns The Angel’s Game‘s David Martín to the page – and reveals a multi-layered past Daniel never knew he had.
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Arturo Iturbe and read by Marisa Calin, translated by Lilit Thwaites
Spanish novelist Iturbe draws on the real-life experiences of Dita Kraus, who was imprisoned in Auschwitz with her family, in this fictionalized retelling. The novel begins with 14-year-old Dita Adler, who is assigned to Block 31, a wooden hut where the children of Auschwitz are sent to be “entertained” while parents work. Block 31 also serves as Dr. Josef Mengele’s hunting ground for potential specimens for his diabolical human experiments. Yet Dita finds Block 31 houses a few miracles, too, and one such miracle is a hidden library of which Dita becomes the protective steward. In the end, reading – and guarding – the library’s eight contraband books saves Dita and many others: “… it didn’t matter how many hurdles all the Reichs in the world put in her way, she’d be able to jump over all of them by opening a book,” Iturbe writes. Marisa Calin’s enunciation is crisp and controlled, and her youthful voice is ideal for portraying Dita, even as she effortlessly modulates for gender, age, ethnicity, and background for the rest of the diverse cast.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and read by Ari Fliakos
In Sloan’s debut novel, Clay, an out-of-work web designer, is hired to work the night shift at the titular Mr. Penumbra’s, which turns out to be unlike any other bookstore. Rather, it is “two stores in one”; there is a “more-or-less normal bookstore” in front, and the secret “Waybacklist,” an area filled with obscure volumes, in back. Naturally, all Waybacklist titles are off-limits, heightening their appeal. Curious about the exclusive stash, Clay soon stumbles upon a far-reaching literary mystery – but to solve it, he’ll require the help of his best friend, an entrepreneur; his love interest, a Google whiz; and various high-tech enhancements. Readers who enjoy cracking mysterious patterns of code alongside Clay and company should also check out Sloan’s companion codex vitae, Ajax Penumbra 1969. The ever-versatile Fliakos narrates both volumes, reading as if with one eyebrow raised, his delivery both convincingly questioning and patiently thoughtful.
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami and read by Kirby Heyborne, translated by Ted Goossen
The Strange Library is 96 pages long, and 32 of those pages, illustrated by designer Chip Kidd, are left untranslated. Heyborne covers the 64 remaining pages in just over an hour. In them, a young boy returning his library books must seek other titles in the elusive Room 107. There he’s trapped by a bald, old librarian; guarded by a Sheep Man; fed by a voiceless girl; and forced to memorize “three fat books” about the Ottoman tax system for insidious purposes. But how will the boy get home to his mother – and pet starling – in time for dinner? While readers unfamiliar with Murakami’s writing can read and thoroughly enjoy this short work as a provocative, surreal tale, Murakami fans will eagerly catalog the myriad references to the author’s previous titles, including the obvious Sheep Man (Trilogy of the Rat); labyrinthine otherworlds (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World); silent yet communicative women (After Dark); and of course, librarians (Kafka on the Shore). A mesmerizing library, indeed.
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett and read by the author
“Yes. That is exactly what it is. A book is a device to ignite the imagination,” says the fictional Queen Elizabeth II when a footman deems her reading choice a potential explosive device. In this delightful sociopolitical comedy, the queen becomes so absorbed in books, she eschews her royal duties. It all begins when the royal canines inadvertently lead the monarch to the “City of Westminster traveling library, a large removal-like van parked next to the bins outside one of the kitchen doors.” The library’s only regular borrower is Norman, a young kitchen worker with a penchant for old musicals. And when the curious queen returns to the library one week later, Norman and the van are still around. By the following week, Norman has moved from washing dishes to tending the royal library; soon, Norman is the queen’s de facto book supplier. With the queen lost in regular literary reveries, books become the scapegoat of the royal household – and the enemy of the British people. Though the royal staff plots to recapture the queen’s attention, they fail; once a book is opened, it must be read. Bennett, a prodigious playwright, novelist, and memoirist, clearly has fun with the authors and books the queen relishes (and those she doesn’t). Avid readers and listeners will enjoy Bennett’s posh, fluent narration (his continental accents are, of course, superb) – and his playful erudition – in this entertaining reminder as to why we read and write.