In May 1980, fifteen-year-old Oscar Drai suddenly vanishes from his boarding school in Barcelona. For seven days and seven nights no one knows his whereabouts...
His story begins in an old quarter of the city, where he meets the strange Marina and her father, Germán Blau, a portrait painter. Marina takes Oscar to a cemetery to watch a macabre ritual that occurs on the last Sunday of each month. At exactly ten o'clock in the morning, a coach pulled by black horses appears. From it descends a woman, her face shrouded be a black velvet cloak. Holding a single rose, she walks to a gravestone that bears no name, only a mysterious emblem of a black butterfly with open wings.
When Oscar and Marina decide to follow her, they begin a journey that transports them to a forgotten, postwar Barcelona--a world of aristocrats and actresses, inventors and tycoons--and reveals a dark secret that lies waiting in the mysterious labyrinth beneath the city streets.
I bought this book because ever since I first heard about its release in this version, I wanted it. Zafon's storytelling is never more eerie or more stunning than when he is telling his young adult stories. The great thing about it is that it never feels like he has written them for children. It's like he has written them just for you, regardless of your age, gender, race. It wouldn't matter if you were a starfish, seriously.
This novel really hits the mark for me. It is a true young adult book in that it truly shows the progressiong of the main character from a boy into a young man. At first he is timid, unsure of what to do, but by the end of the book he has never been more sure of himself. Yes, he still is capable of making mistakes, but now he is past the point of childishness.
The storytelling is superb, and as always, the mystery is hugely compelling and not one that you can easily discover just by thinking about it for a little while. Zafon leads you on a rich chase through some of the most disturbing imagery I have ever read about. Acid is thrown in faces, black butterflies swarming in the depths of a rotting house, dark, dilapidated houses, horrible things living in the sewers and grotesquely human-like mannequins. This all still makes me shudder.
As for Marina, she is an intriguing character, and one that perhaps you never truly understand, however much Oscar tries to. She and her father are deeply enigmatic characters, and I loved reading about them, their house, their lifestyle, their hopes. I think I liked the fact that every single character was in a way imperfect, broken in some way that was never really meant to be mended. It lent a bleak feel to the book as a whole, but one that I could understand from where I am standing now, looking back on my own past and realising that everything was not as rose-tinted as I was led to believe.
I loved that this story sets off being very much a ghost story and entirely fooled you into thinking that way. Instead the answer to the riddle is grounded very nicely somewhere between reality and science, with a small piece of creative license, of course.
A creepy, twisted read, but not so terrifying that it might keep you awake at night ( I don't think). That being said, I think this is more suited to a higher YA age range, say 16, 17, 18, in order to truly understand the deeper meaning of the book.
Marina on Goodreads