Bingo Square: White Whale
The House of the Spirits tells the story of three generations of the Trueba family. The patriarch Esteban and his wife Clara, who has ‘spiritual’ tendencies and foresees the future, their daughter Blanca who falls in love with a man her father despises, and Alba, the granddaughter Esteban adores. The book also covers the political upheavals of Chile and how that impacts the family.
I haven’t read any Allende before, even though I’ve been meaning to, so this seemed a good opportunity for it. I am sorry to say I was disappointed – and often infuriated – by this book. It is long and time consuming and not in a good way, and I could have been reading other things for CBR Bingo. I almost gave up a third of the way in and I regret not doing so. So why didn’t I like it?
I do struggle with writing like this these days, and I wonder if I would have liked it more had I been younger when I read it. It is dense. Each page is a wall of text with few paragraph breaks and little to no dialogue. You’re told what is happening and what that means and how people feel without ever seeing it for yourself. It’s the kind of set up that makes my eyes tired and want to skim read, even though the writing itself is very accomplished.
My main issue is the protagonist. Esteban Trueba is a straight up arsehole of the highest order and yet I have to sit through 400 pages of his twaddle as if he matters. He’s a rapist, he beat his wife (but he loved her so much, it’s OK!), he has no love or compassion for his children or anyone else until they’re all dead/he’s an old man regretting his past actions. Too late Esteban! In reading other reviews they talk about Allende’s strong women but I see little evidence of them here. Each woman seems to disappear as the next generation takes over, leaving little impact on the story. It’s symbolic maybe but annoying since Esteban gets to be there the whole way through. Clara might as well not exist and in fact dies for seemingly no reason other than she thinks her time is up? She marries Esteban because she sees that’s her future and never questions it or fights against it. And Blanca? She stays home, becomes partially infirm and decides not to be with the alleged love of her life for a lot of the book. OK. And then when we finally get Alba who is strong and who does go against her grandfather (though mostly behind his back) and risks her life for other people she is allowed to tell her story for the epilogue. Argh.
And the magical realism everyone talks about it barely there and seems to disappear halfway through the book, like it’s a forgotten plot point. That whole thing with Barrabas at the beginning goes nowhere and seemingly exists to have Esteban skin him and have Clara stand on him as a rug. I knew Esteban was a dick already, thanks.
It’s hard to care about characters who don’t seem to care for each other, and that’s what a lot of the book feels like, family members who despise each other or are at best indifferent. And while this is obviously what happens in real life, I don’t want to spend that much time among it in literature. Not when I don’t get a good feel for those characters because I never get to hear them speak and have to take Esteban’s word for what they were like/were feeling.
Most likely not going to be picking up any more Allende.