31 January 2008

Book Review: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

2008 TBR Challenge #4

The House of the Spirits The house is occupied by the del Valles and their children, from green-haired Rosa the Beautiful to Clara the Clairvoyant, who goes nine years without speaking before marrying her dead sister’s fiancĂ©. Under Clara’s reign the house is filled with ghosts and people, before it fades into a decline in the days of her daughter Blanca and granddaughter Alba. As the years pass the house witnesses the changing fortunes of the family: Births, deaths, marriages, accidents, curses, and finally a revolution that throws not just the house but the whole country into turmoil.

Between the buying and the reading I came across some not-so-flattering reviews by other bloggers, which was why I chose it for the TBR Challenge; I figured that if it was as dull as all that, I might need that extra bit of motivation to get through it. I still had hope, though, and for a good while it seemed that it was reasonably well-founded. The characters were eccentric and mostly likeable, the story was entertaining enough and the pages turned quickly. The crash came at page 300; after three days without touching it, I picked it up, read the next sentence and realised I could not remember how the just-born Alba was connected to the others, or what her mother’s name was. Not a good sign. I flipped back a couple of pages to refresh my memory, but it was all downhill from there. My early momentum was lost and the realisation of how little had stuck in my memory led to the realisation of just how little I cared. If not for the challenge I might have ground to a halt completely and forgotten to keep going.

It wasn’t bad, exactly, just ... easy to stop and difficult to start. The characters all felt distant, as if it were more a chronology of events than an attempt to breathe life into these fictional beings. Nor did it help that the foreshadowing was so heavy as to be almost fore-announcing; since I’d been told so much of what was going to happen, why keep reading? Especially since it seemed obvious it would all be bad, which it was: Imprisonment, torture, murder, rape, mutilation, exile, unhappy marriages, a shrinking curse ... how depressing. Good thing Jennifer Crusie’s on the challenge list; I need to cheer myself up.

Rating: C-

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776