I have much fonder memories of this book than Bethany does. It was one of the first novels we read in our AP English class that year, and as I said earlier, one of my favorites. Prior to this book, most of the novels we had been assigned in high school English classes were written by what Fr. Murphy referred to as “DWEEMS,” or “dead white European males.” With the exception of reading Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country in junior honors English, my exposure to modern female writers was limited. And In Country was not much of an introduction. If you’ve read the book, or seen the movie, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, take my word for it. Please.
So my 16 year old self was primed for quality writing by women. I devoured The House of the Spirits. I bought all of Isabel Allende’s other books that she had written at that point and read them soon after. To this day, I still buy and read her books as they come out. I have read all of her fiction, with the exception of her series of young adult books, but I own them. So for me, rereading this book that I have carried with me from home to home over the years is like revisiting an old friend. Yesterday, when I got home from our blogging session I went to my book room and pulled it off the shelf. I looked my mass-market paperback over for signs of age (there’s plenty, including yellowing of the inside covers and, gasp, multiple dents in the binding). I read the first few pages and was immediately swept up into the beautiful language and the story, just like I was in 1993.
Magical realism is a genre that’s been near and dear to my heart since reading The House of the Spirits. I tend to lean towards fantasy fiction anyway, but what I like about magical realism is that it makes the fantastical present in a more subtle way. When I read books about fairies and vampires and witches, it’s hard to put myself into that world, no matter how realistic the characters are (other than that they need blood to survive). But a world where people can bake their emotions into a cake? That’s much easier to believe in than a never-ending battle between werewolves and vampires. Don’t get me wrong; I love werewolves and vampires, too, but my heart is with stories that take place in this dimension.
In other news, I’m going to try and read two books at once for the first time in at least a decade. I started Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom yesterday as well.