Can Zafon’s Cemetery Series Be Read in Any Order?

Kenny Brechner -- August 16th, 2018

With the Labyrinth of the Spirits, Carlos Ruiz Zafon has completed his four-book Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. The author, along with providing the fourth book, has also supplied a narrative edict. “Each individual installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series can be read in any order, enabling the reader to explore the labyrinth of stories along different paths which, when woven together,  lead into the heart of the narrative.”

From a bookseller’s point of view this is a sensational idea of course. Consider the following scenario taking place in the near future. A customer motions to a stack of The Labyrinth of Spirits.

Customer: So what can you tell me about this one?

Bookseller: It’s the sublime culmination to a truly outstanding series. Set in Barcelona from 1938 through the 1970s, these books deftly combine the world of bookselling, the long shadow of the Spanish Civil War, gothic literary interplay, wonderfully salty characters, sublime dialogue and verbal sparring, along with elaborate and satisfying exposition. Taken together or individually they represent a reading experience not to be missed.

Customer: Oh, so do I need to read the books in order? What is book one?

Bookseller: The first book published was Shadow of the Wind, of which we are out of stock until Thursday, however the books can and should be read in any order.

Customer: Really?

Bookseller: Absolutely. Look right here on this page. “Each individual installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series can be read in any order, enabling the reader to explore the labyrinth of stories along different paths which, when woven together,  lead into the heart of the narrative.”

Customer: Great, I’ll take this one.

Setting aside its benefits to handselling Zafon’s assertion, which was actually first revealed with the third book, The Prisoner of Heaven, invites those of us who read his books in the order they were produced to ponder whether his assertion is actually a literary best practice. It is an elegant idea to be sure, in which each book is essentially a separate portal in and out of a single labyrinth, the experience of whose traverse is colored by the particular entries and exists each individual reader happens to make. Or Is there really a best point of entry and exit?

When I finished book four I was absolutely convinced that The Labyrinth of the Spirits was the only possible terminus for the series. It tied together so many hanging threads, was so satisfying a conclusion, that whatever order you read books one through three, this was the only way out. Furthermore, since I consider book three, The Prisoner of Heaven, though it fills in a great many vitally important narrative details, to be weaker than books one and two, The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game, I would never recommend starting with it. My initial conviction was thus that books one and two were interchangeable but that books three and four needed to be read as published.

A strange thing happened over time, though. I began to see that reading Labyrinth first would have given a sublime insight into any of the other books. As the culmination of my own reading experience settled down, and I poked my head back into the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, I could see clearly that Zafon had truly pulled his conceptual narrative tour de force off. True,  I would never suggest reading Prisoner of Heaven first, but beyond that, as long as you actually open a door to the labyrinth and enter it, all is well. As to not reading the Cemetery of Forgotten books at all, that is obviously a grave error.

6 thoughts on “Can Zafon’s Cemetery Series Be Read in Any Order?

  1. Edie Wright

    I was really thrown off at first reading of the Labyrinth. I am re reading Angles Game at the Prisoner.. then holding the Shadow is tiresome for these elderly hands as I don’t have the tablet form or the audio form of the Shadow. With dimming eyesight I enjoy listening to the great recorder’s voices and thrill with excitement. I await the Public library’s audio version of the Labyrinth.
    The character of Alicia in the Labyrinth threw me off. Never knew her in the other three novels as I tried to read the Spanish ed before the English tr. was available.
    I don’t recommend reading the books in any order . The Shadow and following with the subsequent stories is preferred by me. . However, I admit that I read the Shadow when it was published many years ago and now I am going back to it to get my mind and do research to the other stories.
    Does that occur with any of you? And did you began with the Shadow. or other titles???

  2. Brian Fenwick

    I have just bought Labyrinth of the Sprits. Am I desperate to read it? Well yes and no. Do I need to go back and reread Shadow even though I have read this three tines over the last few years, once as the first novel then again after the publication of Angel and Prisoner.

    And another highlight, as an avid Kindle reader how nice it is to buy a book from a bookshop and then read the hard cover copy.

    Back to the past.

  3. Jeff Green

    This is interesting. I’ve read Shadow and loved it, but it has been a long time, When the other books came out I passed them up because they didn’t seem to be received as well as Shadow. Now Labyrinth is out and sounds amazing. So, here is my question: Do you think I could read ONLY Shadow and Labyrinth and have it feel complete? Would you reread Shadow and then Labyrinth, or Labyrinth first and then reread Shadow if it had been a long time?

    Thanks!
    (PS-can you plz email me directly with your opinion to my question? I’d like to be sure not to miss it!)

    1. Leanne C Mills

      I think Prisoner is important as it certainly fills in the (important) gap from 1939 onwards and the stories of the prisoners of Montjuic castle. It sets the tone for Labyrinth as there are some significant character backstories.
      Plus, its more Fermin and Daniel, what’s not to love!

  4. Monica

    OMG The biggest problem with working in youth services…. I never knew it became a series!!!! Ahhhhh!!! Excuse me, I have some reading to do…

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