The House of the Spirits

So, the latest book review I’ve been procrastinating on is Isabel Allende‘s (probably) most-well known novel, The House of the Spirits.  I finished reading this about a week ago, so I figured it’s time to finally write some kind of passable review about it.

The House of the Spirits isn’t hard to read; it’s engaging, interesting, and, if you like magical realism, very entertaining.  However, it is pretty long, spanning the lives of at least 3 generations of the Dell Valle and Trueba family.  The story takes place in an unnamed South American country, though some of the events and characters in the story mirror those that took place in Chile.  The novel is told by 2 narrators – the first one, who tells most of the story but whose identity remains unknown until the end of the novel, explains how he/she was able to piece together the story of the family from one of the characters’ notebooks/journals that “bear witness to life,” which she obsessively kept throughout her lifetime.  The second narrator, who pops in an out of the main story to tell his own version of certain events, is Eduardo Trueba, the patriarch of the Trueba family and patron of the Tres Marias Hacienda.

The story starts with Senator Del Valle’s family – his feminist/activist wife, and large brood of children, namely Rosa the Beautiful, with her unusual beauty and equally unusual green hair, and Clara the Clairvoyant, who can communicate with spirits and move things with her mind. Outside the Del Valle Family, the story also chronicles the life of Eduardo Trueba, a young, ambitious man, whose fate is forever tied with members of the Del Valle Family.

The story goes on to chronicle the unusual events and extraordinary lives of first Clara and Eduardo, then later of their children, and grandchildren.  The House of the Spirits, is essentially a collection of the strange and unusual stories that make up the lives of the unique, oftentimes, crazy individuals that make up the Trueba/Del Valle Family, ranging from clairvoyants, to philanthropists, to singer/songwriters, guerrilla leaders, and hippie activists, all mostly living under the roof of an equally extraordinary mansion.  Apart from the main family members, there is also a slew of interesting characters whose lives are intertwined with the Trueba Family.   The stories that make up their lives are sometimes funny, sometime sad, sometimes tragic, and sometimes quirky, but almost always interesting and moving.

The novel also covers a lot of ground in terms of themes and subject matter.  It tackles different types of love, from romantic love, to unconditional love, to illicit, desperate, and unattainable love. It also doesn’t lack in tackling issues of religion, spirituality, mysticism, and the occult. All throughout, the novel illustrates and criticizes cultural practices, beliefs, and ideas shared by most South Americans, both in the past, and in the present.  Toward the end, the novel focuses on the Trueba family’s involvement in a series of cultural, political, and military revolutions that the country undergoes.

Because of its range, cultural origin, and use of magical realism, it’s hard not to compare The House of Spirits with Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s One Hundred Years of Solitude.  The two novels share many similarities, from generational stories from one family, to strange events that eventually lead to a country’s political upheaval and cultural revolution.  However, unlike One Hundred Years of Solitude, the characters in The House of the Spirits don’t use the same names in different combinations for members of different generations.  Clara made sure of that in The House of the Spirits, saying that repeating names will only cause confusion in her notebooks “that bear witness to life.”

Despite it’s length, The House of the Spirits is, overall, very engaging and captivating.  Though not exactly plot-driven, the novel contains riveting  life stories which will keep readers interested in the outcome of the different characters, as well rich insights on South American culture and society.  It’s the type of novel that will make you laugh, and happy, but will also make you cry from anger or sadness.  So if you like long family sagas that delve not only into the colorful lives of different individuals, but also on the culture and history of a country; enjoy magical realism, or loved Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, then Allende’s The House of the Spirits is definitely for you!

***

The House of the Spirits (La Case de los Espiritus) (1982) – Isabel Allende

Atria Paperbacks; 481 pages

Personal rating:  4/5

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7 thoughts on “The House of the Spirits

  1. I haven’t read One Hundred Years of Solitude but I do enjoy magical realism a lot and I’ve had The House of the Spirits on my TBR for a while without really looking much into it. Thanks for this review and for summing it up so nicely!

  2. Of Bees and Mist is another magical realism book that comes to mind – it doesn’t have as much cultural and political aspects like the other books, but focuses on a family’s saga and history. I wouldn’t say it topped my favorites list, but it was different from my typical reads.

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