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• Saturday, January 30th, 2016

Joanne Michèle Sylvie Harris was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire in 1964 to an English father and a French mother. Both her parents taught modern languages and literature at a local grammar school. Harris was educated at Wakefield Girls’ High School, Barnsley Sixth Form College and St Catharine’s College, Cambridge where she studied modern and medieval languages.

After training as a teacher at Sheffield University, she taught modern languages at Leeds Grammar School, an independent boy’s school in Yorkshire, for fifteen years and at Sheffield University. She was awarded honorary doctorates in literature from the University of Huddersfield and the University of Sheffield and was also made an Honorary Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge.

Joanne Harris is an acclaimed writer. She has written several books among which some were dedicated to gastronomical pleasure. She has received numerous awards and her books have been translated into several languages and published in many countries. In 2013 she was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List and she is a patron of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), the international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation.

Joanne Harris lives with her husband in a little wood in Yorkshire and dedicates her time to writing books as a means of living. In an interview she says that she has always written since she was a child.

Harris’s French relatives live in Brittany. Her grandfather had a beach house on an island off southern Brittany which looked just like the island of Le Devin in Coastliners. Coastliners was published in 2002 in English and in 2005 in French.

The narrator of Coastliners is called Madeleine but everybody calls her by her nickname, Mado. She is a Parisian painter specialised in seascapes due to her attachment to her native island. She is always trying to recapture the images that remain in her mind from the past and to appease her longing to return home to les Salants. Les Salants is a small island off Noirmoutier near Le Devin. It’s an imaginery island close to the coast of France. Mado goes back in order to care for her aging father, GrosJean Prasteau, a former boat-builder and a silent, depressed and withdrawn man who is haunted and psychologically blocked by an old guilt concerning the accidental death of his beloved brother. Mado returns with the will to reconcile with him after so many years of estrangement. She wants to start a new relationship with her father in the hope of gaining his approval and love.

After ten years spent with her now deceased mother in Paris, Mado, now a young woman, discovers upon her return home that nothing has changed on the island since her absence. The two rival clans, the Houssins and the Salannais still hold ancestral hatreds against each other. She takes upon herself to improve the life of the poverty-striken Salanais by saving les Salants from the destructive sea, caused in part by natural causes and in part by the Houssins.

The Houssins live at the other end of the island. The powerfully rich local entrepreneur Houssin, Claude Brismand, owns the ferry that transports tourists from the mainland to Le Devin. He erected the costly breakwater in order to shelter la Houssinière from sea erosion and to control the lucrative tourism through the island’s only beach, thus allowing the tides to flood Les Salants and leave the fatalist as well as superstitious Salanais to fight for their own survival.

Mado sets a secret plan to help the fishing community in her village with the help of the young attractive, enigmatic Irishman, Richard Flynn, by building a rudimentary barrier with sand bags and old tyres to redirect the tides away from Les Salants. Mado has in mind to make Les Salants a touristic, prosperous holiday resort and fight the ruthless manipulator and machiavellian Claude Brismand, who has a hidden, evil plan to dispossess the land and properties of the poor Salanais and own Les Salants himself.

Richard Flynn is an outsider who has been accepted by the Salanais as one of them and who everybody in the village calls, Rouget, because of his red hair. He presents himself to Mado “with an ironic flourish” as a “philosopher, builder, sculptor, welder, fisherman, handyman, weatherman…”

The story of Coastliners underlines how small villages are forgotten by bigger communities and have to fight for themselves and unite in times of adversity. To achieve their goal, they were missing the help of an energetic tenacious leader, like the persuasive Mado. She comes to their rescue and never loses hope despite hardships to carry her people through tough times. She endeavours to pull the villagers out of their lethargy, passiveness, in-grained superstitious and ancient rituals toward their patron, St. Marine-de-la-mer. One of their beliefs is that if you kiss the feet of St. Marine-de-la-mer and spit three times, something that you have lost will come back to you. Their maxim is:“everything returns”.

The story also portrays the rivalries, jealousy and betrayal between Mado and her older married sister, Adrienne, as well as the great deceit when Mado by chance discovers the secret relationship between Flynn and Brismand who were plotting against her father’s interests on one side and her sister and her husband Marin Brismand, the nephew and heir of the same Claude Brismand, on the other side. In her novel the author emphasizes how the yearning for material possessions prevails over family ties, love and values.

Coastliners is the battle of good versus evil. The story is slow paced but the plot picks up and mysteries and twists are revealed at the end of the novel. Despite the numerous characters and their complicated relationships, the story is uncomplicated. The author describes charmingly and with her flowing prose an accurate and lively portrayal of the islanders who are still living as in the old days, oblivious to the passage of time, modern life and what’s happening in the world. Reading Coastliners is like embarking on a voyage out of time.

Author:
• Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Carlos Ruiz Zafon was born in Barcelona in 1964. He started his writing career with four fiction books for young adults and in 1993 was awarded the Spanish Edebé literary prize for one of them: The Prince of Mist.

His first fiction for adults and big success, The Shadow of the Wind, was published in 2002 and translated into several languages. Zafon, also a screen writer, has been living in Los Angeles since 1993, but has kept his house in Barcelona.

The Angel’s Game, published in Spanish in 2008 and in English in 2009 and translated into several other languages, is reminiscent of Zafon’s first successful novel, The Shadow of the Wind. The two books have in common the Gothic atmosphere, the world of literature which involves the love of books and the book-selling universe, plus the cemetery of forgotten books.

The story, charmingly and humorously narrated with sarcasm in parts by the leading character, David Martin, is set in Barcelona. It starts in 1917 and ends in 1945, but the main series of events take place in the 1920s.

David Martin, born into a poor family, had a tormented childhood with a violent father and a mother who abandoned him. He found solace in books and became a book-lover and an ardent reader at an early age. Later he became an acclaimed writer because of his sensational stories of the doomed citizens of Barcelona. Just like Zafon, Martin was influenced by the nineteenth century writers and especially his favourite English novelist, Charles Dickens, who portrayed destitute Londoners and wrote about the importance of reforming the society of his time.

Martin was approached by a mysterious recluse French publisher, Andreas Corelli, who made him a financial offer he couldn’t refuse. He had to write a book like no other, a book about a new religion, a book that will take hold of the populace’s heart and mind. Martin accepted the deal without suspecting that he was selling his soul to the devil, it is a Faustian bargain with all it entailed, a high price to pay. Martin finds himself going through a dark labyrinth of an eerie universe involving tragic intrigues, murders and deceptions, in a supernatural environment of mysterious adventures and unfulfilled tragic romance.

The Angel’s Game is a book about the power of books and their consequences on some people’s lives, a lyric apologia for books, book reading and book writing. It is a densely dark novel about good and evil with regard to the human soul. A highly complex plot, teeming with characters and events, evolving in a supernatural world.

Despite the lengthy and wearisome theological debates between Martin and Corelli and the disappointingly melodramatic rushed epilogue, The Angel’s Game remains an enthralling novel conceived with intensely vivid imagination. The rich, detailed description of the City of Barcelona gives some depth to the story and makes the city stand out as another character in the novel.

In one of his interviews, Zafon has mentioned that The Shadow of The Wind is about redemption and the Angel’s Game is about damnation. Then he stressed that “our choices make us who we are”. It is up to any person to decide if he wants to think for himself or if he would rather surrender to other people’s beliefs.

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