Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón, whose bestselling works were beloved by readers around the globe, died too young, at 55, in June 2020. Before his death, he collected a slim volume of stories as a parting gift for his fans. Varying from two to 40 pages in length, the tales in The City of Mist are filled with classic Ruiz Zafón elements: absorbing, old-fashioned storytelling, atmospheric settings and characters who exist in the margins between reality and imagination.
Ruiz Zafón's fiction, exemplified by the Cemetery of Forgotten Books quartet that began with The Shadow of the Wind, draws freely on the conventions of many genres—gothic, fantasy, historical romance, noir. The 11 pieces in The City of Mist follow this pattern, tapping into a sense of ethereal mystery and otherworldliness. Some characters will be familiar to avid readers of Ruiz Zafón's oeuvre, and most of the stories are set in the fictional version of Barcelona that has long been his literary terrain.
The final, posthumous work of Carlos Ruiz Zafón dwells in the familiar, fantastical literary terrain that he claimed as his own.
Because Ruiz Zafón was a writer known for burly, sprawling narratives in a style hearkening back a century or two, it is interesting to see him working in miniature. The shortest stories here are mere whimsical episodes, and one senses that The City of Mist, which has the feel of a writer's sketchbook, comprises nuggets the author intended for future exploration in novels. This fragmentary quality, however, in no way diminishes Ruiz Zafón's storytelling charms, which are on full display especially in a number of the longer pieces. "The Prince of Parnassus," the longest story and the one placed dead center in the volume, is an apocryphal tale within a tale about Cervantes, a journey to Rome to save a young woman and a Faustian bargain with a shadowy, devilish figure. "Men in Grey" cleverly makes use of noir tropes while following the exploits of a political assassin during the Spanish Civil War. In another story, the eccentric Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudí takes a voyage to Manhattan to meet with an elusive millionaire in hopes of securing financing to complete his legendary cathedral. One can only imagine, and lament, where Ruiz Zafón might have taken these conceits had he lived longer.
Ruiz Zafón luxuriated in an old-school narrative style and was an indisputable master of the form. If he had one blind spot as a writer, it may have been in his portrayal of female characters. The women in these stories, young or old, are likely to be either virginal or fallen (sometimes, oddly, both), serving as mysterious objects of veneration or temptation but rarely as multifaceted human beings. This omission or oversight often leaves the reader yearning for a little more depth. Nonetheless, for the legion of fans of this mesmerizing storyteller, The City of Mistt will not disappoint.