Monday, April 09, 2007

Book Review: Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende

Natasha Walters reviews Isabel Allende's Inés of My Soul.

Isabel Allende's early fiction, particularly The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna, had an emotional warmth about it that readers found hugely compelling. Together with the fey twists and turns of magical realism - which you either love or you loathe - her ebullient inventiveness led inevitably to comparisons with García Márquez.

Some of her latest work, however, has not been so successful, and for me, this novel dips to a new low. Here, Allende is working with historical reconstruction, and perhaps it is the constraints being laid on her imagination that make this such a lumpy, indigestible read. I'm not qualified to say how far this tale of the 16th-century consort of Pedro de Valdivia, conqueror of Chile, accords to the historical record, but I'd guess that it stays pretty close. Yet although dates, names and battles may be in place, the work of bringing the events to life has eluded Allende. The Inés Suárez who narrates the book is not a person, but simply a cloak of rhetoric thrown over a series of historical happenings, and her almost supernatural abilities - to seduce, cook, heal, dowse for water - while never actually magical, are never actually convincing either.

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