“Marina once told me that we only remember what never really happened. It would take me a lifetime to understand what those words meant. But I suppose I’d better start at the beginning, which in this case is the end.”
Oscar Drai is an apathetic student at a boarding school in Barcelona in 1980. While he isn’t too excited about his studies, he is enamored with the old quarter of Barcelona where his school resides, and he escapes to explore the city every chance that he gets. When we first meet Oscar, he has just been picked up by the police because he’s been missing from school for a week. They find him confused and walking dazedly around the city. He is quickly processed at the police station and sent back to school. Then he tells us the story of the strange and tragic events that have just happened to him.
It all started when Oscar heard beautiful music coming from what he thought was an abandoned mansion in the old quarter of the city. Soon he is drawn in by a beautiful girl named Marina and her ailing father who live in poverty in that old house. Marina and Oscar become friends. When they visit a graveyard and see a hooded woman place a red rose on a grave, they follow her and get involved in a frightening mystery that has haunted Barcelona for years. It involves a famous opera singer, a mad scientist, and reanimated corpses. (If you’re anything like me, just that last sentence would be enough to make you want to read this book.)
Besides the delightfully scary and suspenseful plot, there are plenty of other reasons to read Marina. The gothic setting is both beautiful and horrifying. Zafón’s prose is elegant. The characters are unique and endearing. Oscar has no idea where he’s going in the world and Marina, who does know where she’s going, keeps secrets from Oscar, though he doesn’t realize this. Their relationship with each other, and with Marina’s father, is charming. Oscar and Marina learn much from their adventure and their blossoming romance. The end is bittersweet.
Marina is a gorgeous story, and one that I’ll read again. Its one flaw, I think, is that too much of the mystery is explained to Oscar and Marina by other characters. Not only did I have trouble believing that these secretive people would open up to a couple of kids they don’t know, but this telling (rather than showing) took some of the excitement out of the story.
Marina, which is marketed to teenagers, will be enjoyed by adults, too. In the forward, Carlos Ruiz Zafón says that Marina, which was originally published in Spain in 1999, is one of his favorites of the books he wrote. I love Hachette Audio’s version which is 7½ hours long and narrated by English actor Daniel Weyman. His voice, tone, and pace were perfect for this gothic story. I highly recommend this version.