Sunday, April 23, 2006

Isabel Allende

I have always been enchanted by Isabel Allende. I absolutely loved The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna. So I was eagerly looking forward to reading her new Young Adult novels, starting with City of the Beasts. What a shock. It just doesn’t sound like her voice. It is bland and washed out. I kept reading because I got attached to the characters and wanted to find out what happened to them and who the beasts were, and gradually it grew on me. But it didn’t move me like Allende.

Compare the language with me here. This is from The Stories of Eva Luna, which I had to get out and reread in order to see if my memory of her loveliness matched her actual writing.

From Two Words:

She explained that for every fifty centavos a client paid, she gave him the gift of a word for his exclusive use. The Colonel shrugged. He had no interest at all in her offer, but he did not want to be impolite to someone who had served him so well. She walked slowly to the leather stool where he was sitting, and bent down to give him her gift. The man smelled the scent of a mountain cat issuing from the woman, a fiery heat radiating from her hips, he heard the terrible whisper of her hair, and a breath of sweetmint murmured into his ear the two secret words that were his alone.
“They are yours, Colonel,” she said as she stepped back. “You may use them as much as you please.”
El Mulato accompanied Belisa to the roadside, his eyes as entreating as a stray dog’s, but when he reached out to touch her, he was stopped by an avalanche of words he had never heard before; believing them to be an irrevocable curse, the flame of his desire was extinguished.

Now here is a passage from the beginning of City of the Beasts:

Alexander looked at the clock: six-thirty, time to get up. Outside, it was beginning to get light. He decided that this was going to be a terrible day, one of those days when it’s best to stay in bed because everything is going to turn out bad. There had been a lot of days like that since his mother got sick; sometimes the air in the house felt heavy, like being at the bottom of the sea. On those days, the only relief was to escape, to run along the beach with Poncho until he was out of breath. But it had been raining and raining for more than a week – a real deluge – and on top of that, Poncho had been bitten by a deer and didn’t want to move. Alex was convinced that he had the dumbest dog in history, the only eighty-pound Labrador ever bitten by a deer.

What is missing? Where are the magic words? It is trite. Clich├ęd. Predictable.

Maybe I am just picking a really good old passage and a really bland new passage, but I think these are fairly typical of the whole works.

I have been thinking about it a lot, puzzling it out. What did she do differently? Get someone else to write it for her?

Then I realized what is missing. When she wrote for young people she left out the fertility. The musk of women. The steam and mystery of jungle. The Beasts story goes to the jungle and has lush vegetation and mysterious creatures, but it leaves out the passion. I guess she thinks since the main characters are a teen-age boy and a 10 year old girl that is out of place? I have to say I am disappointed. Very disappointed. It’s a good story but not what I expect from Allende. I haven’t decided if I will keep reading the next two volumes in the series.

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