Originally published in 1995 in Spain, Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s THE WATCHER IN THE SHADOWS is a chilling, gothic thriller with elements of magical realism intended for young adults. I came across the book while book hunting in Soho. I don't know what even attracted me to it, I guess it was the mechanical bird on the cover.
The story begins in 1937 and 14-year-old Irene Sauvelle, along with her younger brother, Dorian, and their widowed mother, Simone, relocate from Paris to a small, sleepy village on the coast of Normandy, called Blue Bay. Simone has been hired as a housekeeper at Cravenmoore, a secluded and mysterious mansion, home to the famous, reclusive, toymaker, genius, Lazarus Jann, and his bedridden wife. In exchange for Simone’s work, the family is allowed to live in the picturesque cottage, Seaview, overlooking the bay and the abandoned lighthouse. All sounds like a dream cometrue, especially after an year of disasters for the whole family.
A young adult novel cannot go without the love story so Irene inevitably meets Ismael, a shy and introspective orphan who spends most of his time sailing alone on his boat. A budding romance ensues as Ismael shows Irene around Blue Bay, the lagoon, the lighthouse and the Cave of Bats. All in all, the Sauvelle’s are content with their new lives in Blue Bay, and the stage is set for a comfortable summer, until a brutal murder takes place in the forest between Cravenmoore and Seaview.
As Irene and Ismael investigate, they quickly discover that a monstrous shadow haunts Cravenmoore, and Lazarus Jann is hiding a wicked past that will endanger all that Irene and Ismael hold dear. Complete with fantastical mechanical toys, dark and twisty passages within Cravenmoore, a sinister forest and an eerie diary, THE WATCHER IN THE SHADOWS has all the necessary components of a mystery/horror story that will keep readers frantically turning pages.
Haunting and atmospheric, I found this novel to be beautifully written - the first one from this author I have read, and it is storytelling at its best. Absolutely enthralling from start to finish, with some lovely little twists and turns and some poetic prose, it may have you jumping at shadows even as a "grown up" and young adults who adore to be spooked will love this one entirely. A picture painted with words, it really was terrific stuff.
The mythology created is rich, the characterisation is really excellent - especially that of Lazarus, an enigmatic man who is difficult to pin down, and the sense of foreboding is very well done and will keep you off kilter.
A Gothic feel throughout, a very addictive read and one that I would highly recommend to both young and old alike. It has a wonderfully conceived plot, character and undeniable flair for writing combine to create a work that possesses that most desired status of literature: it is unputdownable. It is no wonder that revered writers and respected publications alike doff their caps to Ruiz Zafon's literary prowess.
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