The following was written, but sadly not uploaded, late last night:
The last book I read before this was (for me) the awfully disappointing One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Marquez. Expecting an excellent, long, multi-generational, magical realist novel of grave and great importance, I felt I got something instead that never really found its stride. With Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, however, I got EVERYTHING AND MORE thaT I had hoped for from the Marquez. In short, it is an excellent, long, multi-generational, magical realist novel of grave and great importance, but more than that it is deeply political, very, very funny and frequently very moving. It’s a triumph, in short, and everything One Hundred Years of Solitude is incorrectly claimed to be.*
The House of the Spirits has a strong focus on love and sex and sexuality, and the violent rapes that it shares with OHYoS are far less forgivable here. However, one of the main characters, Esteban Trueba (the lesser of the book’s two narrators), is a rapist and not entirely unredeemable despite this. Though his crimes do pay him back in turn and he does suffer emotional and physical pain as a result of his actions. Hmmm.
The way this book (which regularly references the Marquez, and thus I feel it is a fair point of comparison) succeeds far more than the other, is through its focus and development of individual moments, its exploration of different scenes. Whilst it, also, has little dialogue and ratchets through 80 or so years of (quite detailed) time, there is far more of a variance of pace, many more opportunities to understand characters from different levels, and many characters are able to wander off, happily (for a bit), into the distance and not be seen again. Even though the final quarter is focused on a horrific, violent and cruel coup, there is a hopefulness included in this book that is very much absent from many similar texts, particularly the shit one I’m comparing it with.
It is far more openly political than the Marquez, as that is (of course) because Allende lived through the Chilean coup as the niece of the assassinated President. I read Paula, her (one of two, I believe) memoir a few months ago, and found the whole thing utterly beautiful and deeply compelling, but had (to be honest) feared reading her fiction because it does not have the reputation of some texts similar to it. Which has, in hindsight, made me (finally, truly, and utterly) understand the horrific misogyny of the literary canon.
The House of the Spirits is a more interesting, more emotional, more descriptive and more engaging novel than One Hundred Years of Solitude. It is not – and I will give Marquez this – as lyrical or as poetic a novel. But those two things are junk. If I want lyric and poeticism, I’ll read fucking poetry. What I want from a novel is excitement, beautiful, sexy, funny, tearful, intelligent and descriptive prose, I want evocations of something I have never experienced but feel able to feel like I have, I want charm in the prose and strength in its images, I want a plot that makes sense and language that brings it to life, but the second one more, the second one more.
This is an excellent novel, doing everything everyone except the most pretentious, soulless nothing of a reader would want from a novel, and the fact that this is not lauded as a pinnacle of literature is very shameful and, I fear, chauvinistic.
Read this if you haven’t, particularly if you’ve read One Hundred Years of Shit. This is a far, far, superior book.
Never look at a Marquez again. Only read Allende.
* I have decided, here, right now, that I HATED the Marquez. I didn’t at the time, but compared to this, it’s turgid crap.