The House of Spirits by Isabella Allende
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende is the first novel that she published. The book became highly popular and the style of “magical realism” was used to describe the novel. Rogers (2002) explains that “magical realist writers write the ordinary as miraculous and the miraculous as ordinary. The miraculous, on the other hand, is described with a precision that fits it into the ordinariness of daily life.” That is exactly what this novel does until gradually it cycles through about seventy five years of one family and ends in a place that is more real than magical.
The beginning of the novel describes a young girl, Clara, who is growing up in the strange world of imagination and spirits of her Grandparent’s house in Chile. The novel does seem magical from the beginning especially since Clara can foretell the future. The first part of the book is the magical adventure of growing up in the crazily designed mansion of her grandparents. Then as one girl grows into a woman another girl starts growing up until by the end we have met three generations of the family. Clara is the first and she is the family matriarch. Blanca is Clara’s daughter. Alba the narrator of the story is the granddaughter of Clara and the daughter of Blanca. The story is told through the life cycles of the characters.
The beginning of the House of Spirits is like an adventure into another world. Some of the world is recognizable but there are many magical components to daily life. The novel spans 75 years or so of three generations of the family with Alba, of the third generation becoming the family historian and the narrator of the story by the end.
I found many cycles in the narrative of the book. In one way the narrative is cyclic because of the birth and death of family members; the up and down of the families fortunes. The first part of the novel centers on the life of Clara and the cycle of tragedies that face her at each important milestone in a young girls life and in away the story movies from an event of small fortune or some happiness to greater tragedy; then that cycle of small happiness to great tragedy is followed all the way through.
I also noticed that sometimes the way she structured her sentences were about two different cycles. For example, the flight of Uncle Marcos who disappeared like a bird when he flew away in a glider he had invented. The crowd watching him fly was huge. This happens early in the book but already the author starts getting the reader ready for what will happen later in the book. “No political gathering managed to attract so many people until half a century later when the first Marxist candidate attempted, through strictly democratic channels to become President.” (Allende 20). The author structured the two different cycles in time by linking them together. The first is the contemporary time when people gathered to watch the uncle fly and then another gathering fifty years later. It’s good to read the book carefully because sometimes when this type of structure is used it can become confusing.
Allende uses magical and imaginative descriptions to weave everything that happens into almost but not quite unreal events. Some of the objects she treats this way are the magic books in the enchanted trunk cycled from importance to forgotten and back again. This is the most interesting use of a cyclical style in telling the story: how the enchanted books of Uncle Marcos are found, lost or forgotten and found again. When Clara (the family matriarch) was still small she enjoyed reading very much and would read many books and pamphlets including the “the magic books from her uncle Marco’s enchanted trunks” (Allende 90).
Eventually the enchanted trunks were hidden away and forgotten along with poor Barrabás’ (Clara’s dog) hide. The trunk was “shoved into a corner of the bedroom . . . where it resisted moths and neglect with a tenacity worthy of a better cause, until it was rescued by subsequent generations” (Allende 115). This is during the time when Clara cannot be held down by her lover but “seems to be flying’ and Blanca has replaced Nivea (her own mother) in her life “but she had a wonderful relationship based on the same principles as the relationship she had had with Nívea. They told each other stories, read the magic books from the enchanted trunk,” (Allende148).
The books were forgotten again until Pedro read them voraciously “he read and reread them a thousand times, the magic books, from Uncle Marco’s enchanted trunks,” (Allende 178).
And at age six Alba discovers the magic books in the enchanted trunks of her legendary Great-Uncle Marcos and had fully entered the world-without-return of the imagination (Allende 305). Blanca is the mother of Alba, the narrator. “Blanca climbed into bed and turned out the light. Reaching across the narrow space between them she took her daughter’s hand and began to tell her stories from the magic books of the enchanted trunks of her Great-Uncle Marcos, which her poor memory had transformed into new tales” (Allende344). So the tales weren’t exactly from the books but had changed into new tales based on the old ones.
Finally when the world was burning around them the books were burnt too. “The books from Jiame’s den were piled in the courtyard doused with gasoline, and set on fire in an infamous pyre that was fed with the magic books from the enchanted trunks of Great-Uncle Marcos” while grandfather “shrieked in desperation, ‘I’m Senator Trueba! For God’s sake, don’t you recognize me?’” (Allende 453).
In the epilogue when renewal was going on at Grandfather’s house due to Alba’s release from prison lots of the other memory books and photos were taken out. Unfortunately the magic books from the enchanted trunks were missing and the enchanted time of living was forever gone too.
Writing is a main theme in both the epilogue and the first chapter. When the story begins we find Little Clara “was already in the habit of writing down important matters, and afterward, when she was mute, she also recorded trivialities” (Allende 7). In the epilogue we find that Alba has taken up the writing of details. First Alba was reluctant but then Ana Diaz who found the notebook for her telling her, “For you to write in, to see if you can get out whatever’s worrying you inside, so you’ll get better once and for all” (Allende 480).
In the epilogue Allende talks about how the cycle of life in the story “had to complete itself. Afterward the grandson of the woman who was raped repeats the gesture with the granddaughter of the rapist, and perhaps forty years from now my grandson will knock García’s granddaughter down among the rushes, and so on down through the centuries in an unending tale of sorrow, blood, and love” (Allende 487).
When Alba’s grandmother dies, then her grandfather dies the house has been renewed At the same time Alba is pregnant and she thinks, “while I wait for better times to come, while I carry this child in my womb , the daughter of so many rapes or perhaps of Miguel, but above all, my own daughter.”The book comes full circle and another daughter will grow up. She will be the family’s fourth generation.
In the first chapter we learn that writing on her slate was the way Clara communicated without breaking her silence. In the epilogue all the writing brought Alba to a place where she could lose her hatred. She wanted to break the chain of revenge she saw when she learned about her family’s history.
Alba understands why her Grandmother wrote, “in order to see things in their own true dimension and to defy her own poor memory. And now I seek my hatred and cannot seem to find it” (Allende 487).
The book starts with Clara, the clairvoyant matriarch of the family, writing and ends with her great granddaughter, Alba, writing Clara’s story.
Allende, Isabel. 2005. The House of Spirits. Dial Press Trade Paperback/Random House. NY. Print.
Rogers, B. H. 2002. What Is Magical Realism, Really? (This article originally appeared in Speculations.) n.d. Web.16 Oct. 2011.