Book Review | The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende.

In this little compact version of a world, the novel discusses politics, economics, social classes, education, feminism, illness, getting old, death, domestic violence, and sexual abuse.

Nine years after fleeing her homeland, Isabel Allende wrote the novel that would make her name known worldwide, The House of the Spirits (1982), a love letter to her native land as much as a biting criticism to the cruel reality that forced her to flee. The French translation I read was by Claude and Carmen Durand.


No point in sugarcoating it, this novel is hard, frustrating and heartbreaking. There is so much abuse, so many trigger warnings to be given. Esteban Trueba, the male lead, decides to become someone in order to marry well and when that falls through, the other sister might as well do, won’t she? Never mind how young she is. Also, close your eyes on the sexual abuse he does to the women on his farms. He’s a monster with a kingdom he abuses and we follow him and the next generations of the family, trying to survive in an unnamed country that curiously reminds us of Chile. Presented as a mix of the diary of Esteban Trueba’s wife, Clara Del Valle, his own retrospection on his life as a self-made man and parts in a third-person narrative, The House of Spirits depicts the lives of the members of the Del Valle / Trueba family from the end of World War I up to Pinochet’s coup d’état.

In this little compact version of a world, the novel discusses politics, economics, social classes, education, feminism, illness, getting old, death, domestic violence, and sexual abuse. Allende painted a dark, dense and twisted vision of 20th-century Chili and of the struggles of the country to get free from the hands of the Past.

This novel has so many layers. If you read it lightly, you might think it gives a lot of voices to the men of this story. They speak, act and hurt everyone around them more openly, more freely. However, Allende’s talent comes into light if you focus on the sentences and then, the true main characters come out: the women. The survivors to those monsters.

I love how History comes to kick his ass, somehow? Whether or not, he wants it, parts of the next generation long for change. They flee. It truly hits home: the gap with boomers’ set of mind, etc. Although, Esteban still « reigns », we slowly find him less and less intimidating. Violence does not equal real strength.

The most fascinating part for me was how Allende used magical realism as a parallel reality that allowed the women to escape the harshness of their lives. In this story, women tend to have a subtle « gift ». This was my favourite part. I knew of it as I had read Paula, Isabel Allende’s memoir in which she explained how her own grandmother and mother had such capacities (and herself) —it had shed a little tear then as well.

The story is dense, with so many people and so many stories to tell… but it also gets grimmer, as years go by. Esteban’s exactions at the farm comes back with a vengeance and to haunt our worst nightmare… honestly, I was not expecting for the legitimate children and the « illegitimate » (they’re worse than fruits of an affair but I don’t want to trigger anyone reading this review) ones to have their paths crossing in such manners but it fits. Holy molly, those pages were the worst and yet, so impactfull. This book feels so much like a fictionalised version of her family’s story, it’s terrifying. I wonder if it’d be as breathtaking and heartbreaking had I not read the memoir beforehand? It was so hard to read anything else after finishing this book, as well. I always have this longing for home after reading a Latin-American masterpiece. They know how to pay a tribute to their land in a way that truly feels organic and lyrical. As a reader, it makes me feel recharged. As if, for a few hundred pages, I reconnected with Nature in its true glory and I’m in no way a lover of pastoral writings, so it shows how powerful their writing is…

Have you read Allende? Do you enjoy Latin American Literature?

xx
Laurie

Book Review | Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d’éléphants de Mathias Énard.

Une fois n’est pas coutume, c’est avec de la littérature française contemporaine que je vous retrouve sur le blog en ce premier jour de mars pluvieux. J’ai refermé ce livre il y a quelques heures seulement et je crois que je suis encore enivrée de cet Instambul (Constantinople) de la Renaissance vers laquelle il m’a entraînée.

Avec ce titre intrigant, cette couverture qui appelle au voyage et le Prix Goncourt des lycéens, ce titre ne peut que vous tenter, quelle joie de le trouver à la Médiathèque où je fais mon stage.

Alternant chapitres mystérieusement lyriques et rédigés à la deuxième personne du singulier, avec d’autres dans lesquels l’auteur crée une biographie fictive de quelques semaines dans la vie du grand Michel-Ange, de son séjour fictif au Moyen-Orient pour une mission qui risque de lui coûter la vie, menacée par le courroux du terrible pape Jules II, Mathias Enard nous embarque pour un voyage langoureux, enivrant, atmosphérique dans un ailleurs dépaysant pour notre personnage historique Chrétien et aux valeurs radicalement différentes de l’univers Musulman dans lequel il débarque. En 150 pages, après un travail minutieux d’Historien et de biographe de la part de l’auteur, on a du mal à réaliser que cette aventure n’est que le fruit de l’imaginaire.

La nuit ne communique pas avec le jour. Elle y brûle. On la porte au bûcher à l’aube. Et avec elle ses gens, les buveurs, les poètes, les amants.
Une vie d’artiste précaire, qui n’est pas sans rappeler la réalité de cette catégorie socio-professionnelle de nos jours, dépendant de puissants avares et qui ne rechignent pas à exploiter, humilier et abuser de leur génie. Entre intrigues politiques, déchéances du corps et lamentations de l’âme, le lecteur est emporté, comme saoul à son tour de cette luxure et mélancolie décadentes et voraces, les chapitres courts s’enchaînent dans un rythme qui lui fait perdre haleine et l’empêche de reposer ce livre court mais dont la prose exquise le happe.

Avez-vous lu les écrits de Mathias Enard ?
Lesquels recommanderiez-vous ?

xx
Laurie

Book review | Paula d’Isabel Allende.

When looking for more contemporary work on Gothic fiction, I came across Isabel Allende’s novel The Houses of the Spirits. But I found Paula secondhand so I picked it up. I did not think it would be that much of an emotional rollercoaster.

I did not know much about Allende’s life, except for the obvious echo of her surname; so it came as a huge slap when I was faced with the tragedy she went through both when in exile and with her daughter’s sickness.

Her daughter, Paula, was 28 when on her honeymoon night she dreamt of something terrible happening to her. Little did she know it was to become more than a dream. That paralysed me, to know that she had seen in her mind the path her life would take. And mind you she was a true believer too. Look where that got her… She devoted her life to others just to finish on a hospital bed.

When she started feeling unwell she told her mum that it was porphyria just like one her family member had had. Nobody believed her. She was admitted into a hospital in Madrid. This was in 1995 and let me tell you Spanish misogynistic reputation? Totally on point. What kind of pieces of garbage slaps a mother panicking seeing her daughter throwing up blood and having convulsions on her hospital bed? Obviously Paula was « hysterical » because how could someone ever believed that a woman in pain is not just faking it because women are so weak? These pages are infuriating.

And not only that but to calm her they drug her. And you know what happens? Oh yeah they basically kill her. Yep. You can recover from porphyria. If no one messes with you because you’re « hysterical » (did I mention she was freaking throwing up blood? It’s better to repeat it).

So Isabel does not know it but she has lost her daughter there… but it will take months for it to actually end. And no book could ever comfort me more in my stance on letting me die rather than be on tubes and in a vegetative state for years.

Isabel decides to write the story of her family up to the present to give and to tell Paula when she wakes up. Something to focus on during those endless hours spent by her daughter’s side.

We learn about Paula’s husband too. Those are the passages that made me tear up the most. To be loved like this. There was something so strong… but obviously so destructive for him…

As a reader, you’re just getting punched in the face by your feelings pages after pages. But the family is such a wild one that I found peace and entertainment in those passages. So many twists and turns. Such hardships through dictatures, poverty, wars… and of course… the coup d’état, Pinochet, the threatening atmosphere. I was disgusted by Isabel first husband’s dad. An English man so afraid of the « reds » he was thriving on the death of Allende’s political allies. What a despicable human being.

She spends a lot of time fighting sexism and the Chilean misogynist society. It broke my heart to watch the video of those united Chilean girls singing in 2019 things that she was already fighting in the 60-70s…

Something that is common to every work I’ve read by South American authors is their love for their country. Not USA-patriotism coloniser type -that’s racism, not patriotism- but the one when you love that piece of land you were born on, the love that makes you feel grateful for the people, the traditions, the languages, the ground itself, the smallest things. It warms my heart. I think that’s why her sadness when came the time to flee pained me so much.

It does not come as a surprise that the ending crushed my heart. A mother without a child, how can you ever have the strength to go on? I was just thinking of my own mum seeing me in those hospital beds when I was a child. How excruciating. Women are so stronge. Not to mention how beautiful the writing of those last pages was despite the pain. And I was reading a translation! This book will stay with me, that is for sure.

Do you know much about Isabel Allende’s life?
Have you read her books?

xx
Laurie

Books Review | The Witcher, discovering the books after loving the game.

It all started with watching my brother play the 3rd game on PlayStation. I loved the graphics, the open world, the soundtrack, it had a lot of cutscenes which felt like watching an interactive movie and it was long and complex.

I don’t quite remember how I became aware of the books, but I had not yet read anything from a Polish author and I was curious so I bought all of them. It took me a year or a little more I think to go through them. I did not want to leave the world so I picked up other books in between.

I had read reviews that depicted the main character, Geralt, as a stoic which made it difficult for them to get attached to him and I was afraid it would be the same for me, as I usually enjoy the ride with a character rather than a great storyline.

But I disagree with this statement completely. In the beginning, Geralt being a kind of astray mercenary, falling upon missions as he travels his world, he is isolated and quite distant. But once you reach the third volume in which the books change as they’re no longer collections of short stories of his missions but novels, we get a better glimpse at his inferiority even if it’s told in a third-person narration.

The first two books would actually be a good introduction for young readers who might be intimidated by big books but like fantasy settings.

The plot is quite complicated, yet one thing I liked was that it is not actually plot driven? Geralt is that human-modified « monster » that people are afraid or disgusted by and that that they call a Witcher, a state of being you achieve through forced injections of medicinal herbs and other harsh treatments and body alterations he received as a young boy. He has therefore a role in society: in exchange for money, he kills disrupting monsters. He also has an affair with a Magician called Yennefer. I loved the way the author decided to create those Magicians, how magic is not easy and comes with huge sacrifices or risks, and befalls on the part of women obviously. This world is cruel. But along the years, war occurs… It wouldn’t be Humanity without it… and Geralt becomes in charge of a young girl whose blood makes powerful and dangerous creatures and people eager to have as a diligent puppet. This girl is Ciri, which you might know if you’ve heard of the game. And so they have to protect her and find her at some point, when she finds herself kidnapped.


What I mean by not plot driven is that it’s a fantasy world and Geralt travels by horse so everything takes time and he passes by villages where he picks up missions for money and he also meets his friends randomly. So sometimes, action is there because of the main plot and sometimes, things happened because of their travelling circumstances, which allows the reader to become familiar with the world, its creatures and its History but also to grow fond of the little company who accompanies Geralt.

My only regret would be the last book, the seventh volume. It felt drastically different and what was evoked in it was not introduced in the past volumes so it did not appear natural and I spend most of my reading being quite confused. The ending did not impress me, either, I found it messy and expeditious, which is sad because it does not reflect at all the love I have for the precedent books…
Do you play the game(s)?
Have you read the books?

xx
Laurie