The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende
Analysis: Writing Style
Imaginative, Organic, Flowing
Allende's style in The House of the Spirits is, for the most part, very flowy and organic, as if she were telling the story orally. Reading the text, we feel as though we're listening to a gifted and imaginative storyteller, following her through multiple digressions and repetitions and forgiving her occasional lapses in memory. The prose is inventive and precise, and sentences are generally fairly long and complex, with multiple clauses. Sometimes we get to the end of a sentence and forget where it began – the fact that this is not annoying means it must be a really good story.
After a short time, bored with having to appear at ladies' gatherings where the mistress of the house played the piano, with playing cards, and with dodging all his relatives' pressures to pull himself together and take a job as a clerk in Severo del Valle's law practice, he bought a barrel organ and took to the streets with the hope of seducing his Cousin Antonieta and entertaining the public in the bargain. (1.19)
Something that adds to the repetitive or circular feel of Allende's prose is her use of a technique we like to call prolepsis. That's just a fancy way of saying that she talks about things that haven't happened yet – she refers to future events. Then, when she finally gets to that point in the story, we feel as though we've already heard it before…because we have. Sometimes Allende even manages to cram past, present, and future events into the same thought. Here's an example:
Remembering all that, Alba discovered that the nightmare had been crouched inside her all those years and that García was still the beast waiting for her in the shadows, ready to jump on top of her at any turn of life. She could not know it was a premonition. (11.51)
In contrast to the free-flowing language of the first twelve chapters, the parts of the novel that describe the brutal violence inflicted by the military government are told in an abrupt, flatly unemotional style. Take a look at the passage that describes Jaime's imprisonment and torture:
They held him down by the arms. The first blow was to his stomach. After that they picked him up and smashed him down on a table. He felt them remove his clothes. Much later, they carried him unconscious from the Ministry of Defense. (13.25)
The sections describing state violence are completely devoid of the imaginative, magical, and playful aspect that the author's language possesses in the rest of the novel. It seems Allende may be making the point that it is dictatorship, or the forceful repression of the popular imagination, that "doesn't allow for the magical side of things" (10.44).