8 Jun 2015

Brain Soup Goes Gilmore: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Brain Soup Goes Gilmore is a book club hosted by Dayeanne Hutton (of Emma Approved fame) and Felicity Disco. Each month, the club will read a book read by Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls. If you'd like to participate, just visit the club on GoodReads!

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Release Date: 1982
Publisher: Everyman's Library
Pages: 488
Format: Hardcover | Borrowed

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Synopsis (from GR): Here, in an astonishing debut by a gifted storyteller, is the saga of proud and passionate men and women and the turbulent times through which they suffer and triumph. They are the Truebas. And theirs is a world you won't want to leave, and one you won't forget.

Esteban—, the patriarch, a volatile and proud man whose lust for land is legendary and who is haunted by his tyrannical passion for the wife he can never completely possess. Clara,— the matriarch, elusive and mysterious, who foretells family tragedy and shapes the fortunes of the house of the Truebas.
Blanca, —their daughter, soft-spoken yet rebellious, whose shocking love for the son of her father's foreman fuels Esteban's everlasting contempt... even as it produces the grandchild he adores.
Alba, the fruit of Blanca's forbidden love, a luminous beauty, a fiery and willful woman... the family's break with the past and link to the future.

My thoughts: I'm not going to lie, I found the first third or so of this book to drag on, to the point where I seriously considered DNF'ing it. I was slightly disappointed because Allende was one of those authors I'd always heard of. What turned out to be a slow read turned into a beautiful family story spread across generations. 

Esteban Trueba is one of the most despicable characters in literature - I was disgusted by his behaviour, and I was disgusted by the fact that so many other characters were aware of what he'd done, but turned a blind eye to it. I also found him fascinating, in a twisted way. He's a self-made man - when we first meet him, he is a labourer working in the mines, and over the course of the novel he becomes a wealthy landowner with a lot of political and economical power. He's a right-wing crusader, fighting against communists, atheists and any other party that he believes poses a threat to his power. I think I was supposed to be pity him towards the end - his ignorance, malice and hatred causes him to lose so much. I couldn't though - he had made his choices, and he learnt the hard way that they came with consequences. I pitied those who had been impacted by his choices - namely his children and grandchildren, both legitimate and illegitimate, and the women he had raped. I didn't care for Esteban's sister, Ferula, either. She was every bit a selfish, twisted, and power-hungry as her brother, although she exerted her power on a much smaller level. 

What really made this novel for me were Clara, Blanca and Alba. They are all gorgeous characters full of wonder and whimsy. They are strong, finding ways to survive in both the public and private sphere; rising above the adversities they face in a turbulent home and country. Clara is forced to deal with a husband who has a temper and abuses her emotionally, verbally and physically, yet insists he loves her. He wants to possess all of Clara, to the point where he drives away his sister because he's jealous of her friendship with his wife. Clara shows him only indifference, and refuses to acknowledge his existence when he begins beating her. Blanca is in love with Pedro Tercero, a young rebel whose family works on Esteban's property. When she falls pregnant with Pedro's child, she faces her father's wrath. Alba is forced to suffer for the crimes of her grandfather, and is driven half-mad in the process.

Allende frequently breaks the cardinal rule of writing - "show, don't tell." Somehow, it works. It's such a dense book - there's very little dialogue and the Trueba's story is layered in between the actual political history of Chile, and examines class conflict, the cycle of violence, and also briefly touches women's rights. Despite being vaguely familiar with the political conflict being told - "The President" mentioned in the book is Salvador Allende, the author's first cousin once removed - I was still invested in the outcome. The political and historical dimensions of the novel interested me greatly - I completed a Master of International Studies in 2012, so I don't think that this would surprise anyone who knows me - but even though Allende never mentions the political figures or even the country by name, I still believe that this is an inherently political novel. Rather than promote a specific ideology, I believe that Allende is simply making a point about what social and political conflict can do to a country. She makes this point on a smaller scale as well, showing what indifference and lack of love can do to a family.

All in all, a beautiful book - I hope to read more of Allende's work in the future!

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