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Book Review: "Marina" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon


What’s It About?

Marina tells the story of fifteen-year-old Oscar, a lonely boy who lives at a boarding school in Barcelona, Spain, in the late 1970s. Wandering the old and rambling streets, he comes across an old mansion surrounded by a tangled garden and is tempted inside. This is how he meets Marina, who lives there with her frail, elderly father and an aloof cat.

Marina decides to share a mystery which she has been secretly witnessing. So she takes Oscar to an old graveyard and together they watch as an elegant lady, who is dressed in deep-mourning black, visits a particular grave which is inscribed with a black butterfly. Seized with curiosity, the two teenagers plan to discover who this lady is and why she enacts this ritualistic visitation at the same time each month.

Marina leads its readers through an engagingly complex plot which features a derelict theatre, automatons which seem to come alive, several murders, a creepy photograph album, and a history of gruesome medical experiments.

About the Author

Carlos Ruiz Zafon's books have been translated into over forty languages and published in forty-five countries, making him the most widely published contemporary Spanish novelist.

He writes in Spanish which enables him to reach a wide audience in Spain and South America.

Zafon was born in Barcelona, Spain, in 1964. He worked in advertising before moving to Los Angeles, America, in the 1990s. He now divides his time between America and Spain.

His first novel, The Prince of Mist, published in 1993, earned him the Edebe literary prize for YA fiction.

What's to Like?

Marina is a light, easy read which should prove entertaining to its intended YA audience as well as to those who are older but still kids at heart. The tale blends youthful romance with tragedy, mystery and a dash of gothic horror. It is set in a Barcelona which has apparently since vanished beneath the 21st century's city developer's new visions for the built and gentrified environment.

Zafon wrote this novel between 1996 and 1997, and its pages are filled with nostalgia not just for the city he knew as a boy but for his own lost youth. This is apparently the author's own favourite of his literary creations, no doubt reminding him of his own youth and of the place he grew up in.

The romantic trials of young Oscar, who feels equally bewildered and captivated by Marina, will jog many memories of one's own left-behind youthful naivety. A quiet boy, cut adrift from his own family, he is compelled through loneliness and an act of mischief to become involved with a similarly-young Marina and her father, who seemingly live alone, save for a cantankerous cat, in a once-grand mansion which is shrouded by a wildly overgrown garden.

Marina herself is a strongly-written character, with a pivotal and distinct purpose within the plot. Her lovely old father, with his old-world elegance and his frailty, adds a beguilingly human aspect to the narrative, which has a pleasing plot twist towards the end.

What's Not to Like?

A fifteen-year-old pupil regularly wanders off from boarding school on his own and comes back very late at night, but the school is not concerned? Maybe standards of safeguarding were different back in 1979!

Even with the use of cleverly-positioned mirrors, I question whether any surgeon could perform an operation to restructure their own throat, as is claimed in this novel. Surely that's physically impossible?

Also, the novel describes the surgeon as being able to rebuild vocal chords. According to my rapid Google search, this is not yet possible.

There are a few minor plot holes, such as the question of who maintained the automatons in the weird greenhouse and why they seemed to come alive when their sanctuary was trespassed into.

Overall, though, this was a fun read even though it lacked some of the technical polish of Zafon's later best-selling novels, such as The Shadow in the Wind.


The biographical and bibliographical information in this article came from:


© 2019 Adele Cosgrove-Bray