After the first few pages, I already knew this was going to be one of my favorite books. I especially fell in love after the description of Barceló's eccentricities, and all the literary references. Safons narrative and descriptive writing is rightfully compared with Dickens, vivid and maybe, if I dare say, a tad more exciting than Dickens.
I disagree with some of the commenters that the mystery was easy to figure out from the middle, or maybe I'm just not as quick witted as others--it kept me questioning.
There was a point in the book where it went into the history of an old house, and explained a ghastly murder so...what's the word I'm looking for? Accurately? That I got this tingle up the back of my neck as I read the paragraph a few times over, and my eyes pricked with frightful tears. There was twice that I almost cried with sadness, once at the end after the discovery that Carax made in the basement about Penelope, and after a certain accident with a fire. I was gripping the book, fingers trembling, saying "Oh no..." in my head.
I became enamored with the characters, even the evil ones. They all had pasts that I felt for, but that certainly doesn't mean they were all justified in their actions. The many passages about choices and regrets and passed opportunities and loss gathered a lump in my throat, especially a many passages towards the end, including the fate of Penelope, the fate of her maid Jacinta after a visit from Carax, and the passages with Nuria's father...but to be honest, the part that nearly broke my heart was the fate of dear, dear Miquel...I did feel for him so.
Don't misunderstand, though. Many scenes are very very funny, especially with Fermin, who I've added to my list of favorite literary characters.
Truly a wonderful atmospheric book---be prepared to get lost in it, and watch the pages gather in your left hand as the hours fly. Expect laundry to pile up and for that cup of tea/coffee/cocoa to accidentally get cold on your bedside table. A novel of love, gothic mansions, and subplots, among other things. If any of this strikes your fancy, don't resist that bargain copy on abebooks.