Review: The Midnight Palace

The Midnight Palace
The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was surprised by this book. Not the story or the narrative, but by the fact that I DIDN’T like one of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s books. I’ve read 3 others of his and they were great. This one? Not so much. And I think I know why I didn’t enjoy it all that much – because it is set in India. Calcutta, to be precise. Why is that a problem? Because I know India. I know how the weather is, how the people are, what the food is. I probably know it a wee bit better than the author himself – or so I’d like to think. So when Zafon takes artistic license with names, weather, etc. it put me off.

Spoilers ahead.

At the beginning of the book, we are introduced to the villain – Jawahal. Mysterious, dark and who can set fire to things. We know he’s not human. Great so far. Typical Carlos Ruiz Zafon. And then we are introduced to his childhood friend and our hero’s father – Lahawaj Chandra Chatterghee. Have you seen the problem yet? No? The name Lahawaj is so obviously a mirror image of Jawahal. Our good ol’ Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. Right there, at around 10%, I guessed..rather knew the entire plot, which is actually revealed to us at around 75%. So I have to read almost 3/4th of the book, knowing what the big twist is. Bummer.

Another thing that got me: the story is set in May. In Calcutta. In summer. And we have the hero and his friends sitting around bonfires and fireplaces at night. Seriously? In summer? Unless you’re living IN the Himalayas, I doubt anyone needs a bonfire or a fireplace in India in May.

Silly, right? I know. I hate myself too. But see this is my problem – I’m all for artistic license as long as the plot either acknowledges facts or is so removed from reality that it doesn’t even matter. If George RR Martin tells me in Game on Thrones that they had a 7 year summer, I don’t question it because everything in GoT is made up! Fantasy! But if Zafon is telling me they get so cold, as to to need bonfires, during peak summer in Calcutta – I have a problem there because Calcutta is real. I know it doesn’t rain cats and dogs there everyday during May. It doesn’t. So the plot loses credibility in my eyes.

I know, I know. I’m every author’s worst nightmare, I know. I try to second guess the plot right from page 1. I don’t like it when names of persons or places are misspelled or mispronounced when I know about those names (primary reason why I have trouble enjoying Indian authors – all your Ashwin Sanghi, Amish and ilk). I don’t like it when you expect me to invest myself in your plot if there are factual issues with the props and/or environment. It’s like a constant distraction that I can’t ignore. Nails on a blackboard type distractions. I’m sorry! 😦

I really tried to like this book. But the writing seemed so forced. As if trying to stick to the signature Zafon style of how things happen. I never felt that when I read Shadow in the Wind or The Angel’s Game or The Prince of Mist. I didn’t even feel the words in these books – just the scenes flying past me as if in a movie. I remember feeling cold and despondent when reading Angel’s Game. I still remember the constant rain and the alleys of Barcelona when I read Shadow, years back! Zafon’s books, to me, were that good. This one is such a letdown.

I wonder now – could it be the translation? Even so, there’s no excuse for the plot. It was too obvious. Too open!

Oh well.

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2 thoughts on “Review: The Midnight Palace

  1. Well, I think what happened is that clearly you know a lot about the city and the author took so many liberties in making it a fantasy world that it put you off so much that you could not get into the book. This novel is one of the earliest YA novels he wrote in the 1990s, at the beginning of his career, and you’re right that his choices about Calcutta are very close to a fantasy novel. Zafon recreates it entirely as a nightmarish, gothic city that has little to do with modern Calcutta. I don’t know the city that well, so it did not bother me, but I guess it can spoil the mood for somebody who’s familiar with the city and feels the author is not portraying it as it is. I believe part of what he always does is take places that are real and that we know and transform them into “characters” rather than just settings. It works for me, and I find it fascinating, but perhaps he risks alienating some readers who want to be more literal minded and expect him to reflect the reality of a place rather than use it as a springboard to create a new universe. Interesting debate…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree! I never felt this with his books set in Barcelona, say. The city there was, like you aptly said, a living and breathing character rather than just the scenery. That imagery is what I love about authors like Zafon (another that comes to mind is Gabriel Garcia Marquez – the ability to evoke feelings for merely a place!) and that’s probably also why I felt so let down. 🙂

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