That afternoon, Daniel falls in love with Clara Barceló. He characterizes this passion as disastrous, a “curse on his skin” from which he won’t escape for years.
The language with which Daniel describes his passion mirrors the reference to a “cursed love” in Carax’s novel. This is one of the first instances in which Daniel’s life seems to mirror his book.
Clara explains that she became acquainted with Carax as a child in Provence, where her father sent her and her mother to wait out the Spanish Civil War. Friends thought her father was paranoid, but based on his understanding of history, Clara’s father knew that Spain was in for upheaval and tumult, for he knew that “the future could be read much more clearly in the streets…than in the morning press.” After hostilities broke out, he was jailed and eventually murdered in Barcelona’s infamous Montjuïc Castle, betrayed by friends to whom he had remained loyal. Clara punctuates this story with an injunction to “never trust anyone.”
Like almost all the narrative Daniel will hear, Clara’s is rooted in the Spanish Civil War, which shows how much the country’s brutal history defines contemporary life. Ostensibly a thing of the past, it manifests itself often in the events of the present. Importantly, Clara’s father casts doubts on the truthfulness of popular media like newspapers, whose unreliability will often contrast with the supposed trustworthiness of literature.
Clara continues that in France, she and her cousin Claudette had a mediocre tutor, Monsieur Roquefort, who pretended to have high literary taste. He stumbled upon Carax’s novel The Red House during a trip to Paris; the biographical notes stated that Carax was of Spanish origin but currently living in Paris and working as a pianist in a hostess bar (meaning a brothel). Roquefort bought the novel because it seemed gothic and salacious.
Like Daniel, Clara became acquainted with Carax’s books by chance. Her recollection of Carax’s biography provides Daniel with his first details of the author’s life. His Spanish origins establish him as similar to Daniel, but his current occupation makes him seem much different.
Actually, the novel is about a man who steals dolls from shops and museums to pull out their eyes and store them in his house. One night, he breaks into the house of a man made rich by questionable activities during the industrial revolution. There, he runs into the man’s daughter, a gloomy and intellectual girl who falls in love with him. Driven by curiosity, the girl investigates the reason for the man’s bizarre obsession with dolls, eventually discovering a “horrible secret” about her own father’s collection of dolls. The novel ends tragically, but Clara doesn’t specify exactly how.
Although Clara stumbled on The Red House coincidentally, the protagonist’s bizarre habit of collecting doll eyes is reminiscent of her own blindness, suggesting that something besides chance led her to the book. Like The Shadow of the Wind, The Red House addresses issues – forbidden love affairs and the terrible secrets hiding within families – that will surface in Daniel’s actual life as well.
Immediately hooked, Roquefort read the entire thriller on the train ride home. He called Carax’s publisher for more information, but the receptionist didn’t even know his address. However, she told Roquefort that The Red House had sold exactly 27 copies and had been panned by critics. After years of searching, Roquefort never found another Carax novel. In 1935, a bookseller friend related a scandalous story: after years of being a poor pianist, Carax published a well-reviewed novel and was on the verge of marrying a wealthy woman, only to become involved in a duel in the Pére Lachaise cemetery. He has never been seen since then, and no one knows whether he died or fled the city. Eventually, a new rumor spread that he returned to Barcelona and died there as a pauper.
Although all the characters who read Carax are fascinated with him, his books sell poorly and are at risk of fading into oblivion. This is exactly the kind of work The Cemetery of Forgotten Books exists to protect: clearly brilliant and valuable, but unable to survive in the real world. In this way, Carax’s work also shares characteristics with Daniel’s memories of his mother, which he prizes tremendously but can’t entirely preserve. Thus, Carax’s work is linked to the most important institutions and people of Daniel’s life.