“I am even the natural fool of fortune”

King Lear, Act 4, Scene 6

William Shakespeare

I felt that perhaps the few of you who aren’t convinced of my arguments about Shakespeare’s amazingness were getting bored with my constant blog posts about him and so this post will focus on the books I read over the summer – maybe you’ll be able to get a few ideas about what to read next yourselves?

I’ve chosen this quote because of one of most interesting books I read: ‘The House of the Spirits’ by Isabel Allende. I won’t say it was the best, because they were all good, but this one was unlike anything I’d read before, mainly because I’ve never read any ‘magical realism’ before. I’ve always found books with premonitions, foresight and the titular ‘spirits’ appealing and this novel is packed full of them.  Admittedly, you have to be in the right frame of mind to read this book; open to almost anything supernatural and supposedly unbelievable, yet still keeping in mind the strict rules and regulations of society in Chile during the 19th and 20th century. The novel is the story of the Treuba family spanning over four generations, and the ideas of fate and destiny come into the book a lot. Every character you meet has some impact on the future of the other protagonists later and often the narrators tell you of this link well before it happens. The book is told mainly from the perspective of Estaban Trueba and Alba, his grandaughter, although diaries from various characters are used by these two to form a more complete story.

The main female protagonist is Clara Trueba neé del Valle, who has paranormal powers (yes, suspend your disbelief!) and keeps detailed diaries throughout her life. The story is very long and reasonably complex to tell, although, interestingly, pretty easy to read, so I won’t give away anything here. Instead, I thought I’d whip out my English Literature skills and analyse a bit. The names of the protagonists, particularly those of the women, are often significant and reveal their true personalities. For example, ‘Clara’ means ‘clear’ and I would say this almost certainly relates to her uncanny clairvoyants and predictions, although at some points it almost seems as though her foresight is the only thing that is clear to her; often she is just about completely unaware of everything ‘real’ that is going on around her. The names of each of the central female characters in each generation are practically synonyms: Nívea, Clara, Blanca and Alba can all be translated as ‘white’. Alba in Spanish means ‘dawn’, which can be seen to reflect the fact that she brings a new dawn for her grandfather, Estaban, and takes part in the revolution that brings about a new dawn for Chile. You could even say that she represents the new generation, yet fate seems to repeat itself in her romantic life, which I think is quite similar to that of her mother, Blanca.

Overall, then, I think this was a great book, really worth a read and, although it’s long, it’s pretty easy to read. I’m definitely planning to read more ‘magical reaslism’, since my favourite bits of the novel were the bit involving predictions and premonitions.

Having decided that I really enjoy ‘magical realism’, I decided to read Angela Carter‘s ‘Nights at the Circus’  which I’ve had on my ‘To-Read’ list for a while now but never got around to it. This book is much more confusing and crazy than ‘The House of the Spirits’ since it has as it’s female heroine, Fevvers, a cockney orphan brought up in a brothel who now earns huge amounts of money and fame through her trapeze act. But wait for it…the twist her fame and money rely on is that Fevvers has a huge pair of wings, which she can fly with  – or does she? The mystery that surrounds Fevver’s story combined with her overt normalness are what make her such an intersting character, for although she seems to be part-bird, part-human, and as such has had a pretty interesting and weird life, to say the least, she is still your stereotypical cockney girl who constantly drinks tea and eats fish and chips, pasties and other street food. I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as ‘The House of the Spirits, since it was just a little too unbelievable for my taste. The first section, on Fevvers’ background was enjoyable, but the second section, in which Walser, an American journalist void of personality until he meets Fevvers, runs away to join her in the Russian circus. In truth, this second section completely baffled me after a while, although the writing was very clever, if disturbing. However, whose to say disturbing can’t be good? On the contrary, I love ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Life As We Know It’, both of which are very creepy (although more dystopian fiction than magical realism).

I have to admit that I enjoyed ‘The House of the Spirits’ a lot more than ‘Nights at the Circus’, perhaps because it’s more founded on real life and the history of the landlords and tenants and the uprisings  in Chile, whereas ‘Nights at the Circus’ was a lot more out-there; it felt like it didn’t actually take place in our world, where it is supposedly set. However, both a definitely worth a read, and I’m planing to read some more Allende (though heaven knows when – I have such a huge reading list!) as soon as possible. I’ll write more soon about some of the other books  I read over the holidays: ‘Room’ Emma Donaghue; ‘the Year of Wonders’ Geraldine Brooks; ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ J.D.Salinger and more.

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