Thursday, July 17, 2008

Another Isabel Allende Novel

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende


This is the third Isabel Allende novel I've read in the last few months, and the first she published.  It took me a little bit longer to get into this one, because in the second part she discusses Esteban Trueba and at that point in the novel, I was much more interested in the deValle family.  Once she gets to the third part and back to Clara deValle, I was basically hooked.

The story spans three generations, beginning with Esteban and his wife Clara, and ends with their granddaughter, Alba.  Over the generations, certain themes repeat themselves: Blanca and her daughter Alba both end up in relationships with revolutionaries, or socialists, much to the annoyance and dislike of Esteban, a leader in the Conservative Party.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the reasons I had been hesitant to read Allende was my fear of overuse of magical realism.  Of all her novels I've read, this one makes use of that technique the most, but unlike other novelists, hers is more subtle.  Perhaps subtle is not the quite the right word, since Clara communicates with spirits and has telekinetic powers, and characters are born with green hair, but it seems like other authors just overdo it.  Or they focus too much on the grotesque and the absurd.  For example, in Günter Grass's The Tin Drum, the main character has basically adult consciousness from the moment he is born, but chooses not to grow up, remaining in the body of a toddler for several years, even trying to seduce and have sex with the babysitter while looking like a two year old.  Something about that just went a little too far for me.  I had similar problems with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and parts of Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie bothered and distracted me, though I mostly enjoyed the novel (The Ground Beneath Her Feet, on the other hand, is convoluted, boring, and just not that interesting).
In Allende's characters, their unusualness is shown as more of an eccentricity than anything else as well as the progression of time - none of Clara's descendants have her skills or abilities, and there is an idea that the time of magic has passed with the rise of modernity and the violent upheavals of the country.  By the time the coup occurs, only few of the spirits still remain.
In addition to being about the deValle-Trueba family, the novel is about social change and struggle, as well as good intentions gone awry.  The family's destiny ends up intertwined with other people, and things that happened decades ago end up affecting the present.  And there are also great passionate love stories mixed in throughout the narrative, Blanca and Pedro standing out the most.
Now that I've read three of Allende's novels, two of which were probably her most well known and famous, I'm kind of curious which one I should get next (other than Zorro - I think that one's somewhere in a huge stack of unread books in my apartment in Germany) - any recommendations?

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