Authors: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Watcher in the Shadows
is the third of the novels I wrote for younger readers at the beginning of my career in the 1990s. How young is young when it comes to reading is a tricky question and one I’ve never been able to answer. As with many things in life, it depends. When I wrote these books I was aiming to write the kind of novel I would have liked to read when I was twelve or thirteen years old. I was trying to offer a nod to all the books kids of my generation used to read, from the mysteries of Enid Blyton to the great nineteenth-century classic stories of intrigue and adventure from Dumas to Verne to Stevenson and beyond. I was also secretly hoping that adult readers would enjoy them as well, and that the novels would transport them back to those first books that capture a reader’s imagination and fire a love for literature. A world of heroes, villains, magic and adventure, a world in which children fight and love and live intensely and don’t spend their entire dreamlives texting or surfing the net with virtual friends. These novels deliberately hark back to bygone days. They remind me of what the discovery of reading meant to me. I hope they remind you too, regardless of your age. So, how young is young? It depends. Mostly, on you!
Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Sometimes I think I am doomed never to forget the mirage of that summer we spent together in Blue Bay. You’d be surprised to see how little things have changed since those days. The lighthouse still rises through the haze like a sentry, and the road that runs alongside the Englishman’s Beach is now just a faint track snaking through the sand to nowhere.
The ruins of Cravenmoore peer through the forest, silent and shrouded in darkness. On the increasingly rare occasions when I venture into the bay on my sailing boat, I can still see the cracked windowpanes of the west wing. Sometimes I imagine I can see the lights again, flickering in the twilight. But I know that nobody lives there any more. Nobody.
You will probably wonder what has become of the house on the headland, Seaview. Well, it’s still there, isolated, facing the vast ocean up on the clifftop. Last winter a storm carried away what was left of the small jetty on the beach below. A wealthy jeweller from some nameless town was tempted to buy the house for next to nothing, but the westerly winds and the pounding of the waves against the cliffs managed to dissuade him. The salty air has made its mark on the white wood, and the secret path that led to the lagoon has become an impenetrable jungle, overrun with wild bushes and strewn with fallen branches.
From time to time, whenever my work down at the dock allows it, I get on my bike and cycle up to the headland to watch the sunset from the porch: just me and a flock of seagulls that has moved in without even bothering to ask permission from the estate agent. From up there you can still see the moon casting its silver thread towards the Cave of Bats as it rises over the horizon.
I remember that I once spun you a story about this cave: a tale about a sinister pirate whose ship was devoured by the grotto one night in 1746. It was a lie. There never were any smugglers or buccaneers who sailed into the shadows of that cave. In my defence, this was the only lie you ever heard from my lips. Although you probably knew from the start.
This morning, as I was hauling in a tangle of nets that had snagged on the reef, it happened again. For a split second I thought I could see you, standing on the porch of Seaview gazing quietly out to sea, as you used to. But when the seagulls rose from the building and flew away I realised there was nobody there. Further up the coast, Mont-Saint-Michel hovered above the mist like a fugitive island that had run aground at low tide.
Sometimes I think that everyone has disappeared to some other place, far from Blue Bay, and only I have remained here, trapped in time, waiting in vain for the tide to bring back something other than memories.
I think this must be the hundredth letter I’ve sent to the last address I could find for you in Paris. Sometimes I wonder whether you’ve received any of my letters, and whether you still remember me and that dawn on the Englishman’s Beach. Maybe you do; or maybe life has taken you far from here, far from the memories of the war.
Life was much simpler then, wasn’t it? But what am I saying? Surely that’s not true. I’m beginning to think that only I am foolish enough to go on reliving each and every one of those days in 1937, when you were still here, by my side . . .
Those who remember the night Armand Sauvelle passed away would swear that a purple light flashed across the sky, leaving in its wake a trail of blazing ashes that faded away over the horizon; a light that his daughter Irene never saw but which would haunt her dreams for years to come.
It was a cold winter’s dawn and the windowpanes in Ward 14 of Saint George’s Hospital were covered in a film of ice.
Armand Sauvelle’s flame went out silently, without so much as a sigh. His wife Simone and his daughter Irene looked up as the first glimmer of day cast needles of light across the hospital ward. His youngest child, Dorian, was asleep on one of the chairs. A heart-rending stillness filled the room. No words were necessary to explain what had happened. After six months of suffering, an illness whose name he was never able to pronounce had snatched away Armand Sauvelle’s life.
It was the beginning of the worst year the Sauvelle family would ever experience.
Armand Sauvelle took his charm and his infectious laughter with him to the grave, but his numerous debts did not accompany him on his final journey. Soon a whole horde of creditors and vultures wearing elegant frock coats began to drop by the Sauvelles’ home in boulevard Haussmann. After the legal niceties of those first visits came the veiled threats. And these soon gave way to the seizure of the family’s assets.
Prestigious schools and beautifully tailored clothes were replaced by part-time jobs and simpler outfits for Irene and Dorian. This was the beginning of the Sauvelles’ spectacular fall into the real world. The one who came off the worst, however, was Simone. Returning to her job as a teacher did not provide enough income to stem the torrent of debt that consumed their limited resources. New documents signed by Armand seemed to crop up everywhere: a seemingly bottomless rabbit hole of unpaid loans and letters of credit.
By this point young Dorian had begun to suspect that half the population of Paris was made up of lawyers and accountants, a special breed of ravenous rodent that lived above ground. Also by then, and without telling her mother, Irene had taken a job in a dance hall. For just a few coins (which, in the early hours, she would slip into the box Simone kept hidden under the kitchen sink), she would dance with clumsy young soldiers with sweaty hands who were really no more than frightened children themselves.
At the same time, the Sauvelles discovered that the list of people who used to call themselves friends was evaporating like dew in the morning sun. That summer, however, Henri Laffont, an old friend of Armand Sauvelle, offered the family a small apartment above the art shop he managed in Montparnasse. He waved aside the rent – to be repaid in better times. All he asked in exchange was Dorian’s assistance as an errand boy, because his knees were no longer what they had once been. Simone could never find enough words with which to thank old Monsieur Laffont for his kindness. But the shopkeeper didn’t expect any thanks. In a world of rats they’d happened on an angel.
As the first days of winter sent a chill through the streets, Irene turned fourteen years of age, although they felt more like twenty-four. For once, she spent the coins she earned in the dance hall on herself and bought a cake with which to celebrate her birthday with Simone and Dorian. Armand’s absence still weighed on them like an oppressive shadow. They blew out the candles together in the narrow sitting room of their apartment on the rue de Rennes, making a wish that the bad luck that had been hounding them for months would be extinguished along with the flames. For once, their wish was not ignored. Although they were still unaware of it, the year of darkness was coming to an end.
Some weeks later, a ray of hope unexpectedly burst into the lives of the Sauvelle family. Thanks to the influence of Monsieur Laffont and his network of acquaintances, Simone was offered a good job in Blue Bay, a small village on the coast far from the dreary greyness of Paris and from the sad memories of Armand Sauvelle’s last days. Apparently, a wealthy inventor and toy manufacturer named Lazarus Jann needed a housekeeper to take care of his palatial residence amid the forest of Cravenmoore.
The inventor lived in a huge mansion next to his old toy factory, which was now closed, with his wife Alexandra, who was seriously ill and had been bedridden for twenty years. The pay was generous and besides, Lazarus Jann was offering them the possibility of moving into Seaview, a modest house that stood on the edge of the cliffs on the other side of Cravenmoore forest.
In the middle of June 1937, Monsieur Laffont bid goodbye to the Sauvelle family on Platform 6 of the Gare du Nord. Simone and her two children boarded the train that was to take them to the Normandy coast. As Monsieur Laffont watched the carriages disappear into the distance, he smiled to himself for a moment – he had the feeling that the story of the Sauvelles, their real story, had only just begun.
Normandy, summer of 1937
On their first day at Seaview, Irene and her mother tried to instil some sort of order into what was to be their new home. Meanwhile, Dorian discovered a new passion: geography or, to be precise, map making. Equipped with the pencils and drawing book Henri Laffont had given him as a parting gift, Simone Sauvelle’s younger child retreated to a spot on the cliffs, a vantage point from which he could enjoy the spectacular view.
The village with its small fishing dock occupied the centre of the large bay. To the east, an endless expanse of white sand, known as the Englishman’s Beach, stretched along the water’s edge. Further on, the narrow point of the headland jutted out into the sea like a giant claw, separating Blue Bay from the wide gulf the locals called Black Bay, because of its dark, deep waters. The Sauvelles’ new home was perched on the very tip of the headland.