Hello everyone. I’m back today with some thoughts on The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende.
I am, as I’ve hinted on this blog more than once, continuously struggling to form an opinion on this book, to a point where I feel the need to reread just to finally decide what I think of it.
The House of the Spirits is novel packed full of magical realism (which really isn’t something I usually enjoy), generations of family, love and violence. It’s incredibly hard to give a comprehensive plot synopsis because there’s just so much going on. There’s family drama galore, a lot of very uncomfortable gender stuff including abusive family heads and rape-y moments, a weird portion of the supernatural (clairvoyance and just general weirdness) and of course, in the last third of the book, a big political change that is (not just loosely) based on the military coup in Chile 1973.
I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed reading this, and, much more importantly, it didn’t make me feel uncomfortable in the way a good book does, it made me feel uncomfortable because of it’s flaws, more specifically, it’s language and characterisation.
I didn’t like the writing at all, it felt like she was trying to be lyrical and poetic, but never really surpassing a plain storytelling voice with a note of pathos to it, to a point that made me genuinely uncomfortable.
Moving on to characters. I didn’t. connect. to. a. single. person.
I don’t think she did a terrible job at populating her novel. That many people, there’s going to inevitably be some interesting ones, but still, they just weren’t very memorable. I’ve read this nine months ago, and literally the only characters I can still clearly distinguish in my memory of the book are the abusive patriarch and a depressed existentialist girlfriend that was a shockingly minor side character. All the passion- and powerdriven family members just blend together at some point.
Still, when I finished this novel, I didn’t loudly and disgustedly declare my dislike for it. In fact, I rated it three stars on goodreads (with gained distance a rather questionable decision) and even in the opening paragraph of this post I spoke of my mixed feelings for it. What is it that made me finish it, that makes me doubt my position?
I really did enjoy the story. It kept my attention, it kept my eyes glued to the pages, I, despite my issues as stated above, really did get into the story zone.
Because I love getting lost in a story, I kept this book in fond memory of being completely sucked in by the tension, which is why for the first time ever I think the long time span between reading and reviewing this book actually played out beneficial.
Opening it on random pages again today to write this review really made me aware of my dislike for the language much more than I remember noticing on originally reading it.
So, with some distance, I really don’t think this is a great novel. It might not even be a good one. But it’s a good story, so if that’s what you’re looking for, I don’t think you’re going to be terribly disappointed by this. Still, it by no means belongs into a hailed canon of great literature in my opinion, and you might consider only getting it from the library.
On a final footnote, this book is apparently hailed as a feminist version of Gabriel García Márquez and comparable works. I don’t feel competent enough to go into that, because back when I read this, I didn’t even consider myself a feminist. Still, I’d disagree and I recommend you check out other people’s goodreads-reviews discussing that further when reading this, e.g. here or here.