At Daastan, today, we are looking at the magical realist novel, “House of Spirits” by Isabel Allende. The cold breeze whistles in the empty corners of the room and the day darkens sooner than later. There could not be a better time to read a book about houses, spirits…patriarchy and other dark things; Monsters, imagined and real.
A Brief Introduction to Allende and her World
Coming from Chile, Isabel Allende is one of the most successful Latin American novelists. As is apparent from her last name, she belongs to a relatively privileged family. The Chilean President, Salvador Allende was her uncle! Naturally, her life was deeply submerged in the political upheaval in Chile. Insofar, she had flee to Venezuela after Salvador’s assassination.
Moreover, “House of Spirits” was her first novel and the influence of the socio-political conditions of Latin America are noticeable in the plot. Delivered through a magical realist tone, Allende adopts a gendered, class-conscious, and politically critical lens. The role of women and the condition of the state are the main points of emphasis for Allende.
“House of Spirits” by Isabel Allende
The novel follows Clara del Valle, a young girl connected to the spiritual world. It follows her as a sister, a daughter, a wife, a mother and a grandmother. She is the beating heart of the story. Moreover, she is the connection between the Trueba family as she marries Esteban Trueba. For him, it is a rags-to-riches story, with the complexity of class commentary. To put it simply, he is a vile man who does vile things. But he loves his wife and later on his granddaughter. This will prove to be his saving grace.
Furthermore, the novel does provide him with a redemptive arc due to the presence of his love for Alba. It is through Alba that the masculine cycle of hatred and violence is put to an end. However, Esteban did have a strained relationship with his daughter, Blanca; a constant source of defiance.
Each woman offers a complementing, interconnected arc to make a complete story. It is a story about family, love, class, politics- all set in a house of spirits.
The Magical Realism of “House of Spirits”
As mentioned earlier, “House of Spirits” is a magical realist text. It follows three generations of Trueba women and through them various themes are uncovered. Clara becomes the main point of connection with the spiritual world- the magic is the most vivid with her. Allende focuses on family relations through her. Secondly, her daughter Blanca extends the romantic and class aspect of the novel. However, she is the most detached from the spiritual world. Finally, Alba is the political curative figure that female magical realist writers are known for.
Further, with Alba the focus is on the political. By this point, the magical almost escapes the novel- aside from a couple of ghost appearances. Perhaps the point of this was to contrast the unbelievable magic of the first part with the unbelievable political reality of the end.
Trigger Warnings for Readers
While we highly recommend this novel, it is important to point out that it does have the potential to be very triggering. There are frequent mentions of violence against women, as the realistic landscape of a patriarchal society is painted. Further, despite the magical realist mode, the end is far from magical. It is curative, forgiving and fresh- but it is real and might not afford a lot of catharsis.
That being said, it is truly one of the most wonderful pieces of literature that deserves to be a part of the literary canon. We cannot recommend it enough!
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