Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

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Trans. by Lucia Graves. Text, 2013. ISBN 9781922079152.
(Age: Secondary and older readers) Recommended. It is Barcelona, 1980, and Oscar Drai, student at a Jesuit school, has reappeared after a week's absence. Grieving for the loss of a loved one, he recollects the story of his life for the last few months. It all started when he felt himself drawn to a mysterious mansion where a beautiful young girl, Marina, lives with her father. Marina explains that her father, German, is still mourning the death of Marina's mother and is now very ill himself. Oscar and Marina explore old Barcelona together and begin to follow a mysterious figure clothed in black. They are lead to another mansion where in the seemingly abandoned greenhouse they find a photo album hidden amongst ghostly puppet-like apparitions. When the album is destroyed by a being characterized by the smell of putrescence and the symbol of a black butterfly they realize that they are somehow entangled in a mystery that is linked to the supernatural. Using the scraps of a photo they track down a policeman and then a doctor who were involved in a case of disappearance and mutilation many years before. The mystery seems to be centred on the abandoned Opera House built by Mijail Kolvenik for a singer who never performed there, his wife who was mutilated on her wedding day. Pieces of the story come together, and the two learn that Kolvenik, a brilliant but disturbed genius, was attempting to replace human body parts with manufactured replicas which would function more effectively and would mean that his wife's beauty could be restored and death would no longer be inevitable. In a quite complicated denouement Oscar and Marina have to face both Kolvenik, ill and disfigured himself, and his wife in the old theatre. Oscar saves the day, but then learns to understand Kolvenik's grief when he learns that it is Marina and not her father who is ill. This is an atmospheric story of echoes, the story of German's wife being paralleled by the story of Kolvenik's wife and then by Marina's destiny. Another theme is the significance of art and frustrated genius in society. Old Barcelona is very picturesquely imagined, and there are a number of dark scenes in the usual atmospheric settings, in the sewers, in an open grave, and in haunted mansions. The plot is complicated but the novel should appeal to lovers of the macabre. It is suitable for secondary students and older readers.
Jenny Hamilton