My 11th-grade daughter will be reading The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende this year. I decided to read it for myself, in part because she told me there was a lot of sex in it. I wasn’t sure a book with “a lot of sex” was appropriate for 11th-grade girls. I’m still not sure.
Nevertheless, The House of the Spirits is a spectacular achievement, a book epic in its scope, full of tragic romance, love, and magic. It is one of the best books I have ever read. I highly recommend it. Sometimes it seems to be about the 1973 coup in Chile that led to the death of President Allende and government by a military junta. But it is really about the women of the Trueba family. Allende herself said of her fictional family that she needed no imagination to tell the story of the Truebas. Her own grandmother was clairvoyant; her grandfather was the model for Esteban Trueba. Indeed, the book feels too true to be merely fiction, which is the mark of the best fiction.
Now, I know my daughter will not suffer any harm from reading The House of the Spirits. She’s a sensible girl with a strong and independent sense of self. I don’t worry about her being influenced by it. But I don’t think she will like it much. I expect she will find the casual immorality, spiritism, and political oppression equally offensive. I’m not sure she will like the main characters much: Clara, Blanca, Alba. She’s a good student, so she will dutifully read it. Will it awaken in her a taste for great modern literature? I don’t honestly know. She has already read nearly all the Jane Austen novels and Jane Eyre, none of which have been required for class. She even read Gone With The Wind, even though she hated Scarlett O’Hara. I think she read it only because I bought it for her.