Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

The adjective brave gets thrown around too freely in descriptions of novels, so I try not to use it. That said, Isabel Allende published The House of the Spirits less than a decade into the Pinochet regime. Considering that the final quarter or fifth of this book is a fictionalization of that regime's brutal rise to power, she clears the bravery bar by some distance. All fiction comes from a point of view, even if that point of view is neutral. Still, I don't care for work that gets too didactic, even if I agree with the bulk of the sermon. But I do love generational fantasy novels, and this fits the bill. 

The language (at least in translation) is excellent. I love that she pokes fun at Garcia Marquez and 100 Years of Solitude by pointing out (multiple times) that naming every generation of a family the same thing is needlessly confusing. I love that even though there is an evil businessman, and Esteban Trueba is truly an evil business man, that Allede doesn't A) pretend he's not evil and B) pretend he's not a person. This archetype can get tiresome but she makes him very real. I love the little details like the fact that he's a conservative ideologue who can't distinguish between the liberals, the socialists and the revolutionaries, which is incredibly true to life. And in the end, even he has to admit that military regime he helped install is a terrible thing.

And by giving three generations of women, Clara, Blanca and Alba tell the story Allende manages to show bot the brutality of the patrician class there and a sense of some of what was lost when the junta took over. But the novel is also celebratory and funny at times. This generational and fantastical approach is the main thing that keeps the ending from being didactic, but it also makes the condemnation of the Pinochet regime far more powerful giving a long context. That generational style of storytelling is powerful. 

This is, to be sure, an incredibly tough read, especially in the final act. But it is an incredible novel. I will be reading it again, I'm sure and I'll likely track down more of her work.

Canon Worthy

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