Collected Works: Literature
The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende
‘As she entered the room she brought with her the winged presence of Clara, floating before the loving eyes of her husband, who had not seen her in several days.’ He seems concerned not by his deceased wife’s appearance, but by her lengthy absence, blamed on their delinquent daughter. Even as the mundane and the fantastical elide and meld together, fingers are pointed and bickering endured. Such are the politics of family life.
The House of the Spirits is, in essence, a history of four generations of the Trueba family, a bunch of mismatched eccentrics with traits that are alternately supernatural and ordinary. Clara, for example, is a clairvoyant who likes dogs. The account of their existence shifts between an empathetic study in human relationship and a mythological narrative. The domain in which the family lives is fictional, yet closely parallels the history of Chile.
Allende’s prose is heavy with metaphors, descriptive details, and sensory happenings. The result is a thick mass of lived experience, presented to us with visceral immediacy. Scattered throughout are unusual interconnections and references to events future and past, often expanding outside the timescales of the novel. We are left convinced that this tale is a mere glimpse into something much larger and more complex.
Rather than imposing a discernible structure onto proceedings, Allende takes her lead from the lives of her protagonists. The book is rich with formal and allegorical ideas, but its key asset is the vivid specificity of its invention. The sprawling narrative of The House of the Spirits reveres quotidian particulars, embracing brevity and fragility. In doing so, it reveals to us the mystical depths lying behind the doors of every home.
Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe
More to discover
You can read an excerpt of the novel on Google Books here, and visit Isabel Allende's official website (which features a biography, articles, and interviews with the author) here. Other recent interviews with Allende include those by Alison Beard for the Harvard Business Review, Collier Meyerson for Lenny, and Rory Carroll for The Guardian.