The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende
This novel was the critically acclaimed and well-received debut of the author even though it faced initial challenges at the time of publication. Most of the publishing houses turned it down apparently. But, clearly it was born to leave an indelible mark on countless readers who have constantly affirmed how brilliant this book is. I too have joined their league.
The House of the Spirits written originally in Spanish the novel chronicles the story of four generation of women with the Chilean tumultuous political revolution (from democracy to socialism to military dictatorship) as the backdrop. But it is the women of the story that will shine across the family saga.
Starting with the Del Valle family whose eldest and youngest daughters – Rosa , the green haired beauty and Clara the clairvoyant will bewitch the reader and keep us turning the pages to find out what happens to each of them. The story unfolds in unpredictable ways and in just a few chapters so much has taken place that you are sure to be left mesmerized by it all. There is a slight element of magic realism at work which blurs the line between the real world and the spirit world. For instance, Rosa has greenish coloured hair, from birth an ethereal beauty and this green hair comes back to the family in Clara’s grand-daughter years later. Clara is exceptionally gifted in seeing into the future and the spirit world, can move things without touching and has certain peculiar eccentricities which grow on you gradually.
Clara’s daughter Blanca and her granddaughter Alba complete the generations of remarkable women of the Del Valle and Trueba family. Though there are men who play very significant and memorable roles in this family sage, their lives are first and foremost linked to these women very strongly before being their own. The political turmoil that the country goes through plays a major role in the final denouement but as pointed out earlier it is the personal histories, interconnected lives, acts of redemption and love and hatred that will bind the story together.
The narration shifts between third person and two first-hand accounts (not naming the characters here, so that the full reading pleasure can be savoured in its slow revelation when you do) and the transitions are smooth. There are many lines which foretell what will happen much later on, leaving us eager to keep on reading. There are hardly any descriptive passage on long winded philosophical treatise on life anywhere in this book, making it an engrossing page-turner.
It is the spirit of these women that will stay with you long after the book is over. The undefeated, compassionate and brave acts they carry out – for love, loyalty, their principles, for family – it is a book unlike any other. I hope to read Daughters of Fortune and A Portrait in Sepia – both being prequels to this book but published later. Isabel Allende has become a firm favourite.