Hey guys, back again. I’ve just realised how odd that greeting is: of course I’m back again, and it’s not as if I was away for any significant amount of time either. Oh well. So, just to recap, last chapter saw Max review some (well, one anyway) of Jacob Fleischmann’s films, only to find that everything that the reader confirmed the chapter before was true regarding Cain and his troupe. I almost caved in and did another review yesterday, partly through being stir-crazy and partly because it’s getting really interesting now. But anyway, on with the review.
So we start the chapter with Max waking up the following morning, only to find that he’s actually indulged in many a teenager’s favourite activity, the lie-in, hence the fact that it’s actually noon and therefore afternoon (just about anyway). He goes downstairs to find a note from Alicia who says that 1) by the time he wakes up she’ll be at the beach with Roland and 2) Mr Carver called earlier that day with the news that there’s been no change in Irina’s condition but the doctors think that she should come out of the coma in a few days. Max decides to join them and ends up diverting to get something to eat at the bakery. I’m getting a horrible feeling that this is going to be one of those chapters where nothing seems to really happen. That and the last line of this paragraph just doesn’t seem right to me:
“Two sweet buns and two chocolate bars later he set off for the beach with a saintly smile stamped on his face.”
Why a saintly smile? Maybe this is a translation problem and in the original Spanish is makes more sense, but that line did one of the worst things that a straightforward novel can do: it reminded me that I was reading a book. You might think that’s a bit odd of me to say (considering that I’m reviewing it and all, therefore knowing full well what it is) but I think one of the most unfortunate things a book can do is use vocabulary and phrases that don’t quite make sense in context or that just feel clunky, reminding you that this is a book and destroying the suspense of disbelief. The only kind of novel that can get away with that is metafiction, but then that’s more an example of a very fragile fourth wall. But I digress.
So Max gets to the beach and ends up seeing Alicia and Roland kissing in the sand. Fairly tame, but pretty awkward on his part all the same. Now, I’ll admit that while I may have complained a hell of a lot about some of the quieter moments, I think one of the things that has been consistently good was the Alicia/Roland romance sub-plot, especially when it focuses on Max’s feelings about it; Zafon has caught the feeling of being the fifth wheel of the group really well. But anyway, Max ducks back, obviously not wanting to be seen as that tends to bring up awkward conversation. Still, he decides to take one more peek at them through the grass, which is a bit weird but I’ll run with it, and thus we see that while Roland seems to be enjoying the view, he’s also very nervous about it. A fair enough reaction. Max goes in for another peek, but realises that spying on them is a bit of a weird, creepy thing to do, so re-traces his steps to his bike and leaves them to it. As he goes, he does a bit of soul-searching about how he actually feels about their relationship and eventually comes to the conclusion that if Roland makes Alicia happy, then he’s fine with it. I’ve just realised what an uncannily mature kid he is. Most of the boys I knew when I was 13 were immature little brats who would have made a huge show of their disgust at people kissing. Oh well, it’s a nice change and certainly prevents he awkwardness getting any worse. Anyway, he rides back to the town centre to find something to occupy himself seeing as his beach plans are pretty well scuppered, where he finds a map of the town. On the map, there’s the location of the local cemetery. So, obviously, he decides to go see if he can find Jacob Fleischmann’s grave. Thus we transition from sweet to macabre.
So he gets to the cemetery, which is your standard small-town graveyard. Although I love this line that comes up in the description, if only for the absurd connotations it has:
“There was nothing particularly original about it, he supposed.”
Original? Really? Last time I checked, a graveyard only really has one purpose, so you don’t really need them to be “original”. I mean, for the most part graveyards aren’t exactly what you’d call tourist spots, or at least they weren’t last time I checked. Anyway, he eventually finds Jacob’s grave, a mausoleum that has been seriously neglected over the years. The gate to the tomb is slightly ajar, so Max decides to become a more benevolent version of a grave-robber and enter. Anyway, on Jacob’s tombstone Cain’s six-pointed star has been carved underneath Jacob’s name, which is a little eerie, but not totally unexpected. Anyway, this freaks him out just a little bit and is about to leave when he realises that he’s not alone. He looks up to find that a stone angel, much like the one outside the tomb flanking the gates, is walking on the ceiling. While that is vaguely surreal and a little silly, it still works. It works even more when it stops, grins and has its features melt to match Cain’s features. I’d say that Max has two smart options: run or panic. Maybe both. He chooses the second option and panics, but for some reason Cain leaves without actually doing anything to him. Regaining the use of his legs, he gets out of there as quickly as is humanly possible. Deciding that he needs to talk to Victor some more, he sets off to the lighthouse, realising part of the way there that he’d dropped his pocket watch in the tomb. Quite what relevance that will have later on, I’m not sure. in any case, it seems kinda weird that the watch wouldn’t have a clip of some kind so that losing it like that wouldn’t happen. Oh well, never mind. I’m sure it’ll come up later.
Anyway, he goes to see Victor and explains what just happened in the graveyard. He then accidentally accuses the old man of lying to him, which I can’t see going down well. Apparently I was wrong, with Victor taking the accusation fairly well, kind of implicitly agreeing with Max at one point as well. So Max surmises that everything that has happened so far are signs that Cain is about to make a move of some kind. Although personally I’d say causing Irina to fall down the stairs was definitely a move by him, but I suppose Max hasn’t made that connection quite yet. But, while Victor admits that he’s hiding something, Max is effectively told to stop investigating and to stay away from Roland. Which is kinda harsh considering Max has taken all that’s happened so far pretty well.
So Victor watches Max cycle away and the reader begins to find out why he was so harsh in his rebuttal. Overall, it’s well thought out and quite realistic: because of Cain, Victor has lost friends and the only woman he ever loved and also had to live for 25 years with the knowledge that one day Cain will come back. Why would you allow a 13 year old boy to get involved in a mystery that has already caused so much misery? Anyway, that’s the main gist of this paragraph, but it ends with a rather ominous bit of foreshadowing:
“There were still a few hours of sunlight left before the darkness crept in and night fell – perhaps his last night of vigil in the lighthouse.”
Presumably this is still effectively Victor’s inner monologue. If so, then why the implication that he might not live the night. If Cain is that big a threat that Victor might not be able to stop him, then why keep it to himself? Surely if Cain is that dangerous, he should pass on some knowledge to someone else in case the worst happens. So that well thought out and realistic reason for sending Max away has just been made redundant with the implication that he won’t actually be able to stop Cain.
The last paragraph basically chronicles Max getting home and trying to put together the pieces of this puzzle about Cain but failing but Victor won’t tell him that one bit of info that will presumably make everything fall into place. That’s pretty much where the chapter ends, but there’s one thing that is sort of mentioned and then brushed aside that feels somehow important. Near the beginning of the paragraph he finds that Alicia’s note is still where he left it, so he assumes that she’s still with Roland. It might just be me, but there’s part of me saying that Alicia’s not actually safe anymore. I’ve been wrong before though, so she might actually be with Roland still.
Overall, a pretty good chapter. A bit of a slow start and frustrating because of the lack of new evidence, but that’s more than made up for with the additional questions that it’s presented. I can see things really start to heat up next chapter.