You may ask, Is Mirabile Dictu finally done with Ladies’ Greek?
Yes, I am reading, reading, and reading novels again!
Here are brief remarks on a South American masterpiece by Isabel Allende, Jane Austen’s first novel, and and Charlie Jane Ander’s acclaimed science fiction.
1. The Chilean-American writer Isabel Allende’s stunning first novel, The House of the Spirits, was translated by Magda Bogin and published in the U.S. in 1985. This lush, witty, poetic masterpiece is laced with magic realism, and reminiscent of the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Allende narrates the story of the rise and fall of three generations of the Trueba family in a politically unstable country in South America. The strong women of the family ignore Esteban Trueba, the volatile family patriarch, and live their own lives. I am especially fond of Clara, the psychic matriarch who opens their enormous house to eccentrics and adds on rooms and staircases that go nowhere; her daughter, Blanca, a potter who teaches Mongoloids; and her radical granddaughter, Alba, who feeds the homeless and hides refugees in the wake of a fascist coup. Even the tyrannical patriarch, Esteban Trueba, a landowner and far-right politician, is appalled in old age by violence of the new regime and begins to understand the women. Not only was I reminded of how very great Allende is, but I am eagerly looking forward to her new novel, In the Midst of Winter (October).
2. A rereading of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. The heroine, Catherine Morland, is one of Austen’s most comical characters, and I enjoyed my rereading of this charming little book. Catherine, a fan of Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and other “horrid” Gothic novel, hopes to find a ghost or secret manuscript when she visits the Tilneys at the elegant Northanger Abbey. Her witty boyfriend, Henry Tilney, one of the very few of Austen’s heroes I heartily approve, brings Catherine down to earth when she gets carried away. He, too, is a novel reader, and has a good sense of humor. He says,
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radliffe’s works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again,–I remember finishing it in two days–my hair standing on end the whole time.”
3. Charlie Jane Anders’s All the Birds in the Sky. A nominee for the Hugo Award, this science fiction novel was highly lauded. Parts are charming, parts are a bit awkward and rambling, but it should appeal to fans of Harry Potter and Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy. The story of the relationship between Patricia, a witch, and Laurence, a brilliant techie, includes lots of magic, science, sex, and global warming. Though this novel seems to me very slight, it is a good weekend read.
AND NOW FOR TWO LITERARY LINKS. When I spotted an online review at the TLS of Ann Hood’s bibliomemoir, Morningstar,I paid a month’s subscription fee to read the review. Well, I will also benefit by reading other reviews for subscribers only. I loved Hood’s memoir, and hope others will enjoy it, too. (You can read my post on Morningstar here.)
Jenny Hendrix writes in the TLS,
…[Hood] credits her childhood bookishness with setting her on a path to the literary life of her dreams. Hood reflects on ten works of fiction that guided her through adolescence in the late 1960s and early 70s, and her discovery through them of how to live “the mysterious, unnamable, big dream life I wanted”: “My parents learned about life from hardship”, she writes. “Me? I learned from books.”
In her blue-collar Rhode Island mill town, Hood was an oddity in a household of non-readers; in her hard-working Italian immigrant family, books were seen as a waste of time and money. But, after she had enjoyed a chance encounter with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, literature opened Hood’s eyes to possibilities beyond her immediate milieu. She learnt what it meant to be a writer from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar; learnt to love language via the poet Rod McKuen; and credits John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath with teaching her how to write. There were other, extra-literary lessons as well, in subjects her family didn’t discuss. As the Vietnam War drew to a close, the novel Johnny Got His Gun sharpened her political thinking; the free-loving teens of The Harrad Experiment opened her eyes to the mechanics of sex. Together, these books built Hood an off-ramp from what she experienced as the dull and uninspiring trajectory of her peers: baptized in the church at one end of the town’s main street, married at the club in the middle, and buried by the funeral parlour at the same street’s far end.
The tough women criticizing women at the TLS always find a few negative things to say, and so Hendrix calls the book “heart-warming,” which is not the worst thing I’ve ever heard! Overall, she liked the book.
If you like free reviews, and don’t we all, you can read the insightful review at The Minneapolis Star Tribune . Laurie Hertzel, the book page editor, aptly describes Hood’s graceful book.
In these 10 appealing essays, Hood deftly recounts pivotal moments in her early life, recalling not just what happened, but how she felt and how wonderful it was that the right book seemed to appear at the right time. “Once again,” she writes, “my world had been cracked open by a book.”
Hood’s book is actually one of my favorite books of the year.
We read ‘The House of Spirits’ in one of my book groups some years ago now. I remember the time being very dubious about the selection because in general I don’t enjoy magical realism but this novel was very definitely an exception. I meant to go on and read more work by Allende, but you know what it’s like, there is already a great big pile of books waiting to be read and somehow you never get round to the ones that you wanted to add to it. Do you have any suggestions as to what might make for a good second experience?
I haven’t come across the Hood book, but I’m off to look for a copy now. I know that my reading experiences have changed my life in quite dramatic ways and I love reading about the way they have influenced others too. Thank you for bringing this book to my notice.
Alongside Persuasion, Northanger Abbey is the Austen I want most to re-read – whether I’ll get there this year remains to be seen! :))
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