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Friday, May 04, 2007

The House of Spirits

by Isabel Allende
I have read Zorro and Daughter of Fortune by Allende and enjoyed them. When I saw The House of Spirits on the Banned/Challenged Book list I decided to read it for the Banned Book Challenge. I expected it to be good. It was not! I would have quit reading it around page 100 but I was reading it for two other challenges - the Chunkster Challenge and the TBR Challenge. Besides another blogger highly recommended it. And it was one of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

Over 400 pages of drama, love, lies, relationships, dictators and mystics and yet, the book never engaged my emotions. I never really cared about the characters or the story. I have tried to figure out how this story could be told and not engage the reader. What was it specifically that Allende did or didn't do that made this story so unpassionate? I can't come up with the answer.

There were times when she would be describing someone and I would have a picture in my mind and then she would write something that jarred with the picture. A contradiction of what she had just described. For instance, on page 179 Estaban Trueba was describing himself - "I was as strong and as healthy as I'd been as a young man. I could spend the whole day horseback riding, sleep anywhere . . . " He mentions he didn't have an ounce of fat on him. Only 1 1/2 pages later he says, "I no longer had the strength to grab a sturdy peasant girl by the waist and swing her up onto my saddle, much less rip her clothes off and enter her against her will." I didn't make a note of the other times this happened, but I did think several times, "Where was the editor?"

One passage I liked: "Clara believed that by giving problems a name they tended to manifest themselves, and then it was impossible to ignore them; whereas if they remained in the limbo of unspoken words, they could disappear by themselves, with the passage of time." My mother tried to teach me this concept - that sometimes it's better to leave some things unsaid, because once they are spoken you can't take them back. I think there are definitely times people need to communicate to solve problems, but I also thing there are times, probably many times, when something should be left unspoken so we don't wound with our words. If left unspoken, that harmful thought can just dissipate.

At another point in the book Clara was talking to Alba about some of the mentally handicap children Blanca helped. "In almost every family there's a fool or a crazy person." "But there's no one like that in our family," replied Clara. "No. Here the madness was divided up equally, and there was nothing left over for us to have our own lunatic." That last comment made me smile.

Well, that book is over with. Done. Sigh of relief!

11 comments:

Carrie K said...

I remember really liking the book when I read it way back when but being utterly confused by the movie. Now I'm trying to remember any of the characters. Hmm. Not so much. Maybe it was the imagery and prose that engaged me.

Framed said...

Whew. a book I'm not tempted to put on my TBR list. Actually, I haven't added too many new books lately. But I'm sorry you had to read the whole thing and not enjoy it.

Kailana said...

I liked this book back when I read it. Daughter of Fortune or something is better, though.

iliana said...

Oh that's too bad this one didn't live up to your expectations. I read it a long time ago and loved it but I can't remember much about it now.

I Buy Books said...

Yeah, but at least you got through it. I gave up. I have nothing against Allende, so I may go back to this at some point.

heidijane said...

I haven't read this book, but it does sound like a bit of a disappointment. I think I have read some of her books but, again, can't really remember them. Hopefully you can now move on to a book you'll enjoy!

Les said...

I haven't read the book (and probably won't ever bother now - thank you so much for saving me from the agony!), but the movie was extremely confusing. I think it was my first experience of mystical realism and I didn't care one bit for it. I've tried to read her nonfiction work about her daughter (Paula), but got bogged down and finally gave it up.

Nyssaneala said...

I love this book, and have even re-read it. :)

I have always been captured by Isabel Allende's prose and style (I love magical realism). I actually like House of Spirits and Portrait in Sepia more than Daughter of Fortune. (all 3 books have overlapping characters) Different tastes for different folks!

hellomelissa said...

you said it, booklogged! i never felt like i was "in" this book, either. did nothing for me. "the corrections" on the other hand, had me rapt.

go figure.

Bellezza said...

Like you, I could barely get through this. We read it for one of our Book Clubs, and I enjoyed the mystical/magical aspect, but in many ways it seemed like A Book That Wouldn't End. Isn't it surprising it's had so many accolades?

Lotus Reads said...

Kudos to you for persevering with the book despite not enjoying it booklogged! I used to love Isabel Allende but that's perhaps because I have had the good fortune not to have read either Zorro or House of SPirits and now, I don't think I ever will!