It’s easy to see why Andrea Levy’s 2004 monstrously successful Small Island was turned into a BBC mini-series. It has all the right stuff: historical fiction setting of post-WWII London, heady and illicit romance, examination of societal changes in race, class and gender through the small and focused familial experiences of one London home. Ditto why it’s so enjoyable to read. Continue reading
Since reading Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune at the beginning of the year I resolved to read more of her work. Almost at the same time I agreed to supervise A. in a directed reading on magic realism (pointing out that I have no expertise in magic realism didn’t seem to matter as much as my willingness to do it – further evidence to those counting that enthusiasm trumps knowledge – a fact I insist upon each week at trivia in order to maintain my place on the team).
ANYWAY. The book. The House of the Spirits makes many of the top lists for magic realism because its magic is used to unsettle dominant ideas of class and gender. And because it offers such a pointed (and compelling) feminist view on class conflict. The novel makes the top lists for novels because it is brilliantly written. Okay, you want more? Because it seamlessly shifts in time and character in ways that offer nuance and depth to plot and theme. Because it has beautiful writing and crisp images. Because it captures epic love and historical moments with small moments that are at once pointed and sweeping. I loved it less than Daughter of Fortune (perhaps because it had many similar qualities and I had hoped for the new), but I loved it all the same.
If you read my last post on Lawrence Hill’s The Illegal, you’ll know that I’m only happy when protagonists suffer and ultimately end up heartbroken and alone (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but whatever). The House of the Spirits is a perfect example of a conclusion that is at once focused on resolution and on continuation. (I’m not sure continuation is the word I’m looking for, so let me go with this a minute). The ending of The House of the Spirits is excellent both because it concludes the plot sufficiently that readers know where everyone is and probably will be, that we feel the conflict has been addressed and resolved AND because it leaves thematic questions open: paternity (in a book preoccupied with lineage and familial connection), politics and community. It’s a different result than the ending of Gone with the Wind, for instance, that leaves the plot very much unresolved, or the ending of The Illegal, which ties everything together with such a bow that you close the book and forget all about its contents. It’s a resolution of plot with a continuation of theme that makes the story linger and resurface as you read other things (or do the dishes). It’s a way of ending that lets the characters live, but doesn’t torment you with wondering what if and when the sequel will be delivered. It is, in short, an excellent ending.
Taking my own advice I’ll end this post… now.
I have been known to get carried away in recommending books. I have said out loud on more than one occasion ‘this is the best book you will ever read.’ About different books. And I was going to start this post by saying Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune is the best book I’ll read in 2016. But then I picked up H is for Hawk this morning and now all bets are off. It’s probably better to stop ranking things (this is good advice all round, actually) and accept that there might just be many books that are very, very good and worth pausing whatever you’re doing in order to read (just as there are many pies worth eating and why do we need to have a best one? Because best lists are the best that’s why. And obviously raspberry. Oh fine, let’s carry on with having bests).
ANYWAY. So the book. Continue reading