Jared Millet's Reviews > The House of the Spirits

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
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Reading Around South America:

When looking for authors from each country I’m visiting in my round-the-continent trip, Chile was easy. Isabelle Allende! The one of her books in particular that seemed closest to the heart and soul of the country was her first novel, The House of the Spirits, so I went with that. It’s a sweeping family saga of the Trueba/del Valle clan, chronicling the lives of three generations of very unique women and one tyrannical patriarch. It encompasses most of the 20th century, and though Chile and its major historical figures are never mentioned by name, they’re all here as major parts of the book. The House of the Spirits is, in its way, an impressionistic painting of Chilean history from the start of the last century up through the first years of the Pinochet dictatorship.

It was also a tough nut to crack. Sweeping, generational family sagas aren’t my thing anyway, but for all its good points The House of the Spirits is a first novel and it shows. Apparently Allende didn’t pick up on the “show don’t tell” school of writing until after she was almost done with the novel. She assumes a detached, omniscient third-person style except for the times she dips into first-person and lets the reader into the head of the horrible, abusive, (and serial rapist) Esteban Trueba, head of the Trueba family and the ultimate source of all its misery. And good lord, does someone need to introduce Allende to the concept of "paragraph breaks."

The writing improves dramatically over the course of the book, especially in the final chapters, but the first half is a slog. The chapters are episodic, making it easy to dip into and out of the novel while reading something else until the momentum finally gets going. The characters are all “characters,” more based on quirks instead of fully formed personalities, with the exceptions of the grotesque Esteban, his wife Clara (a kooky clairvoyant with actual psychic powers who nevertheless matures and changes over the length of the novel) and their granddaughter Alba, through whose eyes is depicted the fall of the government to Pinochet’s coup and the terrible aftermath.

It is also through Alba that the other characters, especially Esteban, are in the end humanized and redeemed. As detached and impersonal as Allende’s writing can be, her overall theme in this novel is one of forgiveness and reconciliation. This genre is not one I’m motivated to return to, but I may come back to Allende one day. Especially since she wrote a book about Zorro .

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Reading Progress

June 13, 2018 – Shelved
June 13, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
November 2, 2018 – Started Reading
November 25, 2018 – Finished Reading
November 28, 2018 – Shelved as: general-fiction
November 28, 2018 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
November 28, 2018 – Shelved as: supernatural
November 28, 2018 – Shelved as: south-america
November 28, 2018 – Shelved as: out-of-my-comfort-zone

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