Oscar attends a boarding school in Barcelona, but when school is over for the day, he wanders through the streets, particularly drawn to the abandoned mansions in an old quarter. One day, he is lured into a crumbling home by beautiful singing, and upon entering, picks up a lovely antique watch sitting on a table beside the phonograph. When an old man rises from his chair by the fire, Oscar is so startled that he runs from the house and is all the way back to his room at school before he realizes that he is still holding the watch in his hand. Compelled to return it, he meets the old man’s granddaughter, Marina, and a tragic friendship begins.
As they spend time together, Marina leads Oscar to an old cemetery, where they wait for a mysterious, veiled woman in black who comes to visit a certain grave every week at the same time. When they try to follow her, they discover the edges of a macabre mystery that leads them deeper and deeper into a complex history of horror and madness.
Marina was written in 1999 in Ruiz Zafon’s native Spanish, but has just been translated into English and published in the United States. All of the starred critical reviews considered it his greatest work “since” The Shadow of the Wind, even though it was actually written two years before that great novel. In a note before the book begins, Ruiz Zafon reveals that he somehow knew that Marina would be his last young adult novel, and by the time he finished it, he realized that he had written that genre out of himself completely. Although this book has teenaged protagonists, the plot and theme are very complex, and keeping the characters straight is sometimes confusing, making the novel somewhat difficult for younger readers. Older readers, however, will enjoy unraveling layers of mystery and soaking in the rich atmosphere of his beloved Barcelona.
On the other hand, Marina just can’t live up to The Shadow of the Wind. I have read other adult and young adult novels by Ruiz Zafon, always waiting for that same experience, but even though they are good, my heart belongs to Shadow. I bought a copy of the original American edition and had it signed when I met Carlos Ruiz Zafon at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh (Support Your Local Independent Bookstore!) years ago, and you will be happy to go out and buy it when I tell you that he is a really, really nice person. Where does all this darkness come from? However he did it, The Shadow of the Wind is a monumental achievement, and I know many people who consider it the best book they have ever read.
Marina is recommended to older teens and adults who love a gothic mystery with dark twists and heart-pounding passages. Strong stomachs a requirement, and keep the lights on.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of Marina. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.