Saturday, September 12, 2009

Book Review: The House of the Spirits

I've long been a fan of Isabel Allende, but somehow I missed her very first novel, The House of the Spirits. I went back and read it partly because I'd always meant to and partly because a few people suggested it as a novel to teach to my high school World Lit students. While I loved the novel, I can't imagine teaching it to high schoolers. There are just way too many brothel visits, for starters.

The House of the Spirits chronicles a period in Chilean history (although it's called an "unnamed country") through the life of the complex Trueba family. This is a family full of dynamic characters: Clara, the precocious, clairvoyant, telekenetic little sister who becomes the wife of Esteban after her older sister, Esteban's fiance, dies; Esteban himself, devoted to Clara but cold-hearted and cruel to everyone else, including all the peasants who work his plantation; Esteban's children, legitimate and otherwise; and a cast of other richly developed characters.

I'm not always a fan of magical realism, but I had little trouble accepting (or sometimes ignoring) the scenes that focus on Clara, her spiritualist friends, and the spirit world. Although I always gravitate toward realism, the crazy, accepted magic just becomes part of the chaos of the Trueba family and of the country's political upheaval.

This is the kind of novel you live in while you're reading it--the kind that you can't wait to get to each evening. I definitely recommend reading Portrait in Sepia and Daughter of Fortune as well as The House of the Spirits.


Laughing Stars said...

I read this book in college and loved it. The magical realism and casual co-existence with the spirit world seem to be part of Allende's signature style. For North Americans, it takes some getting used to. :-)

Michael Garretson said...

I chose this book to read off of a very large list of international classics in an international literature class and WOW! am I glad I did. I agree, this is definitely one of those books that consumes you as you read. You mentioned that you were considering teaching it for a class. I would certainly recommend that. Upon finishing it, I wish that I had a class to discuss it in. The complexities of some of the characters gave me the urge to bounce opinions off of classmates, but I no one else had chosen this book. As a college freshman, I feel that this book isn't too inappropriate for a classroom, depending on the grade that it's being taught to.