Saturday 28 May 2011

The Midnight Palace

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafơ(Text)
PB RRP $22.95
ISBN 9781921656941
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This rather dark tale for young adults is set amongst crumbling old colonial buildings in the heart of Calcutta. Set in the early 1930s, The Midnight Palace is quite Gothic in feel; the place is as much a character as any of the human ones. The Midnight Palace was first published in 1994 in Spanish and was the second in a series. The first book, The Prince of Mist, was written two years before with completely different characters and setting. There is a foreword from the author at the beginning of this 2011published translation, inviting readers of any age (not just young adult) to read his story.

Twins, Ben and Sheere, are separated at birth after the dramatic death of their mother.  Ben grows up in an orphanage, while his sister travels around the country with her grandmother. When Ben is fifteen, he  meets Sheere who tells him about their father,  a brilliant engineer who died in a fire at a grand railway station he had built. Ben introduces Sheere to his friends in the Chowbar society who  meet at an evocatively run-down old mansion called the Midnight Palace. They all become involved in the increasingly dangerous quest to find out about an evil man called Jawahal who has vowed to hunt down and kill both Ben and Sheere.  

A narration, written by one of the characters much later on in life, bookends the main story. The voice is of an elderly man reflecting on what happened. The dialogue of the teenage characters is very much needed to lift the seriousness of this tone. The many characters are sketched more by telling than showing and the lack of development of particularly the main characters could distance some of the readers. The descriptions of the Midnight Palace, the old ruined railway station and the father's castle-like house are strong and invoke a dark mood and sense of foreboding. Much of the story is set at night and the weather reflects the drama of the story.

There a sense of magic in The Midnight Palace and a surprising twist towards the end of the story leads us to an appropriate conclusion. 

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