Literature / The House of the Spirits
The House of Spirits is a 1982 novel, Isabel Allende
's first and most famous.
The book deals with the members of the Trueba family, their growth, their rise and eventually their downfall. Esteban Trueba, an ultra-conservative landowner, marries the Cloudcuckoolander
Clara del Valle, with who he has three kids, Blanca and the twins Nicolás and Jaime. Trueba builds his fortune through his farm Las Tres Marías, but this, coupled with his political views, throw a few wrenches in the wheels of his family. Drama ensues.
It sounds like your usual family drama. Well, that's because it is. Of course, all this is analyzed through three generations of Truebas, all this laced with political unrest, an earthquake and a coup d'état, between other stuff that happen on Chile... er, I mean, some nameless Latin American country
It spawned a film in 1994, which, despite its All-Star Cast
, Winona Ryder
, Meryl Streep
, Antonio Banderas
, Glenn Close
, Vanessa Redgrave
), received negative reviews and was a Box Office Bomb
This novel provides examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation: The movie cuts A LOT of characters (justified, since they are so many, but still).
- All Men Are Perverts: Esteban Trueba is the main culprit here, but can be noticed with a majority of the male characters.
- All Women Are Prudes: All save one of the female characters give any indication of actually liking sex. Clara gets to the point where she just thinks it's boring. Blanca enjoys making love to Pedro Tercero but after she gets pregnant and is forced to marry Jean de Satigny, she can't think of having sex with anyone else. Alba is shown as having a really good sex life with her boyfriend Miguel, and then she's sexually abused to the extreme by her evil cousin.
- Aloof Big Sister: Férula and Esteban aren't all that close.
- Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Blanca in her youth.
- Armies Are Evil
- Author Tract
- Babies Ever After: Subverted. Alba ends up pregnant, but she doesn't know if the baby is by her boyfriend or her bastard cousin, who raped her repeatedly. She thinks about it and decides that it's her baby after all, so it'll work somehow.
- Badass Grandpa: Pedro Primero.
- Banana Republic
- Bastard Bastard: Esteban Garcěa.
- Berserk Button: Don't talk to Esteban about communist ideals.
- Big Screwed-Up Family: Oh, the Truebas
- Bittersweet Ending: By the end of the book, almost the whole family is dead (Jaime, Clara, Esteban Trueba himself) or in exile (Blanca, Pedro Tercero, Nicolas). And so are their friends (Amanda). But at least Alba is free from the military and has hopes for a good future as she rests from her ordeals and waits for Miguel's return.
- Bookends: The book starts with kid!Clara writing in her life book. Alba is reading the same 'book in the end.
- Break the Haughty: The second part of the book completely smashes Esteban Trueba's whole world, as punishment for all of his sins. Taken to extremes when he goes to his old friend Tránsito Soto and actually weeps when begging her to save Alba.
- Broken Bird: Amanda. Oh, Amanda.
- Bury Your Gays: The two most prominent gay characters (one of them is simply heavily implied) die way before the end of the novel.
- Camp Gay: Jean de Satigny. So much.
- Cerebus Syndrome: Though it's not outright comedy, the book starts with fairly happy episodes. After the coup d'état, the country starts to look like Mordor, and everything becomes Darker and Edgier.
- Chekhov's Army
- Chekhov's Gunman: Tránsito Soto, Miguel, Esteban García, etc.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Clara del Valle.
- Her older sister Rosa also was pretty... off. Nivea was seriously worried that the girl wouldn't ever do anything but sewing.
- Child by Rape: Possibly the case with Alba's baby.
- Childhood Friend Romance: Blanca and Pedro Tercero, who were used to sleeping naked together since early childhood. An entire chapter contains their growing romance.
- In a roundabout way, Alba and Miguel. Since his older sister Amanda was among those who helped Blanca when she was giving birth to Alba in the Trueba home, Miguel managed to slip inside the room and was present when Alba came into the world.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: What happens to poor Alba in the clutches of Esteban Garcěa.
- Cool Uncle: Uncle Marcos is one to Clara as a child. Jaime also is this and a Parental Substitute to Alba.
- Crapsack World: After the coup.
- Creepy Child: Esteban Garcěa smiles and takes Pedro Tercero's chopped fingers while Esteban Trueba's throwing up. Previously he had also tried to gouge out the eyes of the corpse of his great-grandfather. Wow.
- Cry Cute: Esteban has two moments like this. First, when he sees how low his crippled mother's health has fallen as well as her Dissonant Serenity about it. Later, when he pleads with Tránsito Soto so she can save Alba, now a political prisoner who's going through lots of torture.
- Cute Mute: Clara, from her sister's death until Esteban proposes to her.
- Cycle of Revenge
- Dating What Daddy Hates: The worst of all scum, a Dirty Communist!
- Depraved Homosexual: Jean de Satigny turns out to be one of these. Later in the book he takes kinky, gay pornography featuring sex between his servants
- Dirty Communist: You will hear Esteban rambling a lot about this.
- The Dutiful Son: Férula is a genderflipped version. And boy, does she resent it.
- Dying Alone: Férula damns Esteban to die like a dog. Averted, because he dies in company of his granddaughter.
- Férula herself dies alone; her family only finds out that she's dead after her spirit visits them during a family dinner. This was deliberate: after Esteban kicked her out, she refused to have any contact with the Truebas-to the point that Clara can't use her powers to find her.
- Early-Bird Cameo: Esteban Garcěa gets a few before the golpe.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: The FEW who get a happy ending have to work for it, really hard.
- Earthquakes Cause Fissures: And worse things. It's actually based on the 1939 Chillán earthquake, the single deadliest earthquake in Chile, complete with the pandemonium that followed.
- Eccentric Mentor: Pedro Primero. He seems to be just a rambling old man, but he can get rid of an ants plague and mend all the broken bones of Esteban without any problem. Oh, and did we mention he's blind?
- Esperanto, the Universal Language: Clara believes it's the ideal language.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Poet and The Candidate/The President.
- Fallen Princess: Alba, as a prisoner.
- Also, Férula and Esteban's mother Esther.
- Fingore: Esteban cuts off three of Pedro Tercero's fingers. He doesn't take it well, but later works it out and learns to play the guitar with less fingers than usual.
- Alba also gets three fingers chopped off by Esteban Garcěa and sent to her grandpa.
- Finger in the Mail: Thanks to Colonel Garcěa.
- Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Nicolas is the foolish sibling to Jaime's responsible sibling.
- Forceful Kiss: Alba at fourteen gets a VERY NASTY one by Esteban Garcěa.
- For the Evulz: According to the author, the military regime.
- Foreshadowing: Alba has always the feeling that Esteban Garcěa will have to do with her. She was horribly right.
- Freudian Excuse: Esteban García has always suffered his condition of bastard and has always envied the happy and prosperous infancy of Alba. Instigated by his grandmother Pancha Garcia, he seeks revenge...
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Esteban García.
- Funny Foreigner: Jean de Satigny
- Generation Xerox: Seen it From a Certain Point of View, Esteban Trueba and his grandson, Esteban García, are Not So Different.
- Grave Robbing: Esteban and his sons exhume Rosa's corpse from the Del Valle's crypt to put it in the Trueba's crypt.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Esteban.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Esteban Trueba's bastard son, product of the rape of Pedro Primero's daughter Pancha, has a son who eventually turns Esteban's life into a hell. To add insult to injury, he's the one that gets him a job on the police just to shake him off.
- Homoerotic Subtext: Clara and Ferula, so much, especially on Ferula's part. Esteban notices this, which leads him to kicking Ferula out of his house
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Tránsito Soto, who consoles Esteban when he's down and eventually helps him set Alba free from the military.
- Hot-Blooded: Esteban, much to his misfortune.
- How Do I Shot Web?: Or better said, "How Do I Learn To Play Guitar With Three Missing Fingers?"
- I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Esteban Trueba towards Clara.
- Impoverished Patrician: The Trueba family. The mother, Ester, was a Fallen Princess disinherited after marrying "beneath her station".
- Ironic Echo. "...Go to hell." "Well, that's where I'm taking you to. You'll come with me anyway." (Said first by Esteban to Pedro Tercero, and then by Pedro Tercero to Esteban himself.)
- It Has Been an Honor: The President bids farewell to all his followers during the coup. Truth in Television, regarding the person on whom he's based.
- Jerk Ass <- -> Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Esteban.
- Kiss of Death
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Actually justified, as the action spans several decades and depicts three generations of family.
- The Lost Lenore: Rosa and Clara for Esteban.
- Magic Realism
- Maiden Aunt: Ferula. And she's damn bitter about it.
- Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: At the end Alba doesn't know if her child is of Miguel or of Colonel Garcěa or of some random soldier who raped her during her imprisonment, but she doesn't care.
- Meaningful Name: A lot of names reflect the characters' personalities, especially the women's.
- Memetic Molester: Esteban Garcěa is one in-universe. Poor, poor Alba.
- Mind over Matter: Clara moves a table only with her mind.
- Miniature Senior Citizens
- Miss Kitty: Tránsito Soto, towards the end of the book.
- The Mourning After: Esteban never gets over Clara's death.
- New-Age Retro Hippie: Nicolás and Amanda.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Poet is a thinly-veiled Pablo Neruda. Ditto with The Candidate, later The President, is the former Chilean president Salvador Allende.
- No Indoor Voice: When Esteban loses his temper, he starts shouting very loudly.
- Not So Different: Esteban Trueba and his namesake grandson.
- Off With Her Head: Nívea del Valle. It was in the car accident that also killed her husband Severo, if you wonder: a piece of shrapnel broken into the car they were in, hit Nivea in the neck, and beheaded her. Said head flew through the window and was lost, and Clara only managed to find it with her powers several months later (and when she was about to give birth to Blanca!).
- One Degree of Separation
- One Steve Limit: Averted. The García family has three Pedros; Primero, Segundo and Tercero (First, Second and Third, respectively). Esteban shares his name with his bastard grandson and he wished to name one of his kids Esteban.
- Only Sane Woman: Blanca seems to be this in a Big Screwed-Up Family.
- Plucky Girl: Alba. Also Tránsito Soto
- Polar Opposite Twins: Jaime is a serious academic and Nicolás is a crackpot hippie.
- Police Brutality
- Poster-Gallery Bedroom: A non-traditional one-Alba's bedroom is a full mural painted by herself since she was a little girl, despicting her most important moments of her life. This is foreshadowing of The Reveal that she has been The Narrator all along
- "Minor" versions: Rosa's huge and unfinished tapestry and Clara's life books.
- The Promise: Esteban gives a teen prostitute named Tránsito Soto some money so she can go to the city and make herself a name there. Tránsito accepts, but she also promises to repay him someday. Fifty years later, she keeps her word via using her contacts to save Esteban's Morality Pet, his granddaughter Alba.
- Also, Amanda promised to protect her little brother Miguel through all of his life, even with her own life if needed. She fulfilled it by being tortured to death by the secret police and yet managing to keep his whereabouts secret.
- Promotion to Parent: Amanda had to raise her much younger brother Miguel.
- Psychic Powers: Clara talks with spirits and moves objects with her mind. She's so skilled at the latter task that she can pay the piano without touching it.
- Put on a Bus: Nicolas, after his eccentricities embarrass the Truebas way too much. Pedro Tercero and Blanca, when he becomes a fugitive and they both leave the country. (Ironically, it's Esteban who bails him and Blanca out).
- Rape as Drama
- The Rival: Nana vs. Férula, over taking care of the pregnant Clara.
- Roman ŕ Clef: The novel began as a letter Ms. Allende was writing to her agonizing grandfather, albeit she didn't finish it until way after his death. At some point she had to change the name of a character because she inadvertently gave him the last name of its real live inspiration/counterpart.
- Self-Made People: Esteban goes from an Impoverished Patrician miner to a very rich landowner and a Senate member before losing almost everything. Similarly, Pedro Tercero goes from a poor farm boy to a well-known guitar player and musician idolized by the local youth. Tránsito Soto goes from an ugly but plucky teen prostitute to a beautiful and smart Hooker with a Heart of Gold and then to a financially fluent and very well-positioned Miss Kitty. A villainous example is Esteban Garcěa, who from being a bastard farm boy ends up an high-ranking colonel of the military regime. This last one will fall pretty hard on the Truebas.
- Settle for Sibling: Esteban was earlier engaged to the beautiful Rosa but after her premature death, he ends up marrying her much younger sister Clara.
- She Is All Grown Up: Blanca grew into her looks, and was depicted as genuinely ugly when she was born.
- Similarly, Esteban only recalled Clara as an average-looking and VERY awkward 12-year-old. Cue him being almost dumbstruck when he meets her at age 18 and sees that she has grown into a much prettier woman.
- Also happens to Transito Soto. She started as an ugly yet plucky teen hooker, then was seen as a kinda prettier but still not super special-in-looks prostitute, but when in her 30's she was incredibly beautiful as well as very well-positioned and cultured.
- Shotgun Wedding: Esteban makes Blanca marry Jean de Satigny because she's carrying Pedro Tercero's daughter.
- Sibling Triangle: Nicolás, Jaime and Amanda. Nobody wins.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Falling to the cynical side.
- The Speechless: 12-year-old Clara loses her ability to speak due to a traumatic event (Rosa's murder), which she blames herself for. She only regains it when she announces that Esteban will ask her parents for permission to marry her.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Subverted with Blanca and Pedro Tercero. They at least have some sort of happy ending.
- Straight Gay: Férula (her homosexuality/bisexuality is only implied) is supposed to be this.
- Straw Misogynist: Esteban.
- Tangled Family Tree
- Tell Him I'm Not Speaking to Him: Clara never directly speaks to Esteban after he hits her for the only time ever during the Pedro Tercero deal. Esteban settles for interpreting her silences and body language.
- Textile Work Is Feminine: Rosa was very talented at sewing and needlepoint, and she chanelled said skill via sewing a HUGE tapestry through the years.
- Theme Naming: The women of the Trueba family: Clara (Clear), Blanca (White) and Alba (Dawn). Also the mother of Clara, Nívea (snow-white), follows the theme. Blanca lampshades the fact they don't have more names to keep the tradition; she only points out her they can use foreign names.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The military wasn't happy with just filling poor Jaime's body with bullets, they also had to dynamite it.
- Victorious Childhood Friend: Six year old Miguel was there when Alba was born (that one's justified: Amanda, his older sister, was there as well).
- Also Alba's parents, Pedro Tercero and Blanca.
- Villainous Crush: Surprisingly-but not so much for a Genre Savvy reader-Esteban Garcěa develops one to Alba. Too bad that he slams her into isolation cell after figuring this out.
- Villainous Incest: Esteban García, illegitimate grandson of Esteban Trueba, rapes his father's half-sister's daughter Alba. Many times .
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Some characters, like Pedro Segundo, stop appearing. Basically because they stop being part of the Trueba life.
- Kinda justified in Pedro Segundo's case: he willingly removed himself from there after Pedro Tercero was mutilated by the "patrón" whom he always hated for his abusive behavior (and envied due to being married to Clara, whom Segundo was implied to love), and only briefly reappears for Clara's funeral.
- World's Most Beautiful Woman: Rosa del Valle had a practically unearthly beauty.
- You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Rosa is described as having had green hair. The very first edition cover allegedly portrays her with this.
- Alba inherits said green hair. She's not amused by that since she didn't inherit Rosa's beauty alongside it, thus it doesn't look good on her.
- You Make Me Sic: Nicolás sends love poems to his girlfriend Amanda... and she sends them back, with corrections.