Progress report, AP English Challenge: The House of the Spirits (by Jill)

I’m about 1/3 of the way through The House of the Spirits.  I last read this book in its entirety my freshman year of college in a comparative literature class.  This was not an English class.  At my university, there was a separate department called Comparative Literature.  I am sure that I used to know the difference between the two, but as of 2012, that bit of knowledge has left my brain, to be replaced by something more important, like the dose of Valium to give to a seizuring dog, either intravenously or per rectum.  Yes, the doses are different.  As a brief aside, I am amazed on an almost daily basis recently how many mundane details of the past I seem to have let slip away.  I wish I could say it didn’t upset me.  But it does, a little.  I used to want to write down every detail of every minute of every day so I would never forget anything.  It would have been my version of Clara Trueba’s “notebooks that bear witness to life.”  Sadly, that never happened.

So at page 142 of 433, here’s what I’m thinking.  I am still enjoying The House of the Spirits, which doesn’t come as a surprise to me, since I loved it the first time around and I still enjoy Allende.  There are more characters than I remember—for the life of me I did not remember that Clara and Esteban had twin sons who were a few years younger than Blanca.  Granted, their story is definitely a secondary narrative, so it’s not a surprise that I’d forget.  Also, I have traditionally preferred reading about women; I’m getting better about that, and have branched out to reading novels by and about men in the past couple of years.  And if you’d asked me a few weeks ago about the narrative voice of this book I would have said that it’s third person omniscient.  I would have been partially correct.  There are also parts in the first person with the voice of Esteban Trueba.  I still don’t like him much.  But the reasons for disliking him are a bit more concrete now.  More on that later.

Allende’s prose is so similar in this book to her more recent novels; her voice has not changed, though her subject matter has become more varied.  Wikipedia says that this novel is likely a roman a clef (nonfiction with a filigree of fiction, for those of us who haven’t taken an English class in a while).  It seems to me that writers often choose their initial subject matter from familiar things and then branch out.  Allende is a great example of this.  These days her fiction has many and varied subjects, and since I’ve read all of her adult novels, I’ve watched her grow away from the familiar and into different places, times, and situations.  Her characters always have a close affiliation with magic, but as time goes by they are less and less grounded in what I imagine to be her past.  It’s actually been a joy for me as a reader to watch this happen.  Her writing is less polished in this book than it is in her newer ones.  It seems like once every few pages she makes a foreshadowing comment.  It’s almost too much to keep track of!  I know that she still does this, because it struck me as “typically Allende” when I started reading, but I don’t imagine it is as frequent now.

Last night I read a passage at the end of chapter four in which Esteban and Clara have an argument about the nature of the poor, and whether or not the wealthy should help them.  It sounded to me like a liberal and a conservative arguing today.  Possibly I have had a similar argument with one of my coworkers.  I’ll leave it to your imagination which voice I was.  Anyway, the point of mentioning this was that Allende has captured what seems to be a timeless argument.  HotS was published in 1982, 30 years ago.  It takes place in Chile, in the mid-twentieth century.  And I can hazard a guess that in another 30 years liberals and conservatives will still be arguing about the same damn things.  Perhaps this is why nothing ever changes?  Because people are basically either Clara or Esteban, and no one will give a little to get a little (or maybe even a lot).  I suppose we should all be pleased with ourselves for being so firm in our principles.  Or should we be horrified at our stubbornness?

Back to the book….

This entry was posted in AP English - 18 Years Later, Authors, Fiction - general, Fiction - literary, Isabel Allende, Reviews by Jill. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Progress report, AP English Challenge: The House of the Spirits (by Jill)

  1. Hi! I took Bethany’s advice and I’m reading the book along with y’all. It sounds like we are in the same place, page wise. This is my first Allende book, so I appreciate your comments about her other books, which I plan on adding to my list! I love this book, as I always suspected I would. I definitely see the connection with Garcia Marquez, one of my favorites, particularly in the paragraph construction — long and complex.

    In your note, I appreciate the most your comment about how Clara and Esteban represent most of us in the world. Sad but true.

    I look forward to hearing more about the book from you and from Bethany.

    • badkitty1016 says:

      Hi Sandy! Thanks for the feedback! I’m glad you’re enjoying the book. Of Garcia Marquez’s books, I have only read Love in the TIme of Cholera, which I enjoyed, but not as much as Allende. I have a few more of his books, and started The General in his Labyrinth a few years ago, but never finished it. I don’t for the life of me remember why, it just wasn’t something I was interested in reading at the time. Hopefully someday I’ll go back to him.

      • Hey, Jill,

        One Hundred Years of Solitude is amazing, but long, so a time investment. I highly recommend his short stories, which is how I was introduced to him as an undergrad. My two favorites are “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” and “The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.”

  2. badkitty1016 says:

    Collected Stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez successfully placed in shopping cart! Thanks for the recommendation!

    • If you get a chance, check out Better World Books.
      They are an awesome online retailer with some discounts, and they use a portion of their profits to support literacy efforts both in the US and abroad. They offer a carbon-offset shipping option and they buy used books (they sell both new and used).

      Let me know what you think about the stories.

  3. lfpbe says:

    Comparative Literature is literature originally written in languages other than English. At the college level, “English” departments usually only teach literature that was written in English, with the exception of the Bible.

    I am reading three different books right now, and when I finish them I’ll be starting House of the Spirits. That won’t take as long as it sounds – I’ll probably be able to start it on Saturday or Sunday.

    Jill and Sandy – I love it that you two are chatting!


    • badkitty1016 says:

      I remember that now! Though I swear I read books written in english for my comp lit classes too. Those syllabi I know I still have.

      • badkitty1016 says:

        I did! I read The Color Purple and Transformations for one, and Beloved and Ceremony for the other.

  4. lfpbe says:

    How could you not remember the twins? They were born under the watchful eye of the decapitated head of the grandmother! Even _I_ know that.

    • badkitty1016 says:

      Because I somehow thought Blanca was born under the watchful eye of the decapitated head of the grandmother. It appears that I only remember the movie version of events in this book, even though I hated the movie.

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