The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
The Chancellor has been at me for years to read Isabel Allende, and finally, I caved in. He chose Zorro for February’s book club, and I thought I would start by first reading The House of the Spirits. It’s drawn a lot of comparisons to Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, which on the surface seems fair, but honestly, I think Allende’s is the superior novel.
The House of the Spirits is the story of the Trueba family across three generations. Clara has premonitions and spiritualist inklings. She predicts an earthquake before it happens, and she also finds the human world to be a bit confining. Hers is an abstract but happy life. Her older sister Rosa tragically dies, and when Rosa’s fiancé Esteban Trueba asks for Clara to marry him, she speaks for the first time in nine years. Clara and Esteban produce three children, a daughter named Blanca and twin sons Jaime and Nicolás. The family is further haunted by the presence of Esteban García, whose origins point to the family and whose feelings of bitter angry threaten all that they hold dear.
I’ve obviously held back from plot summary, because this is a rich, beautifully written novel, and to say much more would be to spoil it. Allende brings up the complications of family, of idealism, and of love in intriguing ways. The magical realism that she introduces in the novel does not detract from the story but helps us understand the ways in which the world functions in Chile. The political upheavals, coupled with the magic in the book, bring something I’ve never quite experienced before. I think that while Márquez gets all the accolades, Allende is way less self-indulgent and much more sympathetic to the psychological workings of the woman’s mind. Further, her women are much more fleshed out and less sexualized, which is always a good thing.