Did I think Allende could do it? Yes, but still I had my doubts.
Ripper pulls the reader right in, it is 500 pages but it reads like 150 (I finished the book in two days). The suspense took a different turn around 40 pages left. I read mystery novels, but I was so invested in the characters from this book that I had to flip through the next pages. I know, I’m the worst, but I had to see what happened. I was going to get a heart attack if not.
Overall the novel is about a series of murders in the San Francisco area. Of course, the main characters are a family, drawn together by the voluminous, evanescence creature, Indiana (I seriously love the name Indi). Her family is strong, her friends are strong and I found the villain believable. I have to say I guessed it!!!! Not in a bad way, since I only guessed half of it, but still I was happy to guess “who dun it” as they say.
One of the things that I always found were Allende’s strengths were building characters that you could read, read into and read again. Do people like Agatha or Amanda really exist? I’m not sure, but Allende does a good job of showing us what it means to be human, to have different loves and interests and beliefs.
Thoughts the Ripper was funny and touching in a way that extended beyond the typical idea of a “mystery novel.” I thought it was a great read, interesting at every turn. I loved the characters and was captivated by Allende’s always stunning use of language (Did she write this in English first??)
He was so eaten up with jealousy that he hired a private detective, a man named Samuel Hamilton Jr., and instructed him to keep tabs on Indiana and a record of the men she met, including her patients at the Holistic Clinic. Hamilton was a short little man with the innocuous air of a vacuum cleaner salesman, but he had inherited the nose of a bloodhound from his father, a journalist who had solved a number of crimes in San Francisco back in the 1960s and was immortalized in the detective novels of William C. Gordon. The son was the spitting image of his father: short, red-haired, balding, keen-eyed. He was dogged and persistent in his fight against the criminal underworld but, overshadowed by his father’s legend, had never managed to truly develop his potential and so scraped by as best he could. Hamilton tailed Indiana for a month without discovering anything of interest, and for a while, Alan was reassured, but his calm was short-lived; soon he would call the detective again, the cycle of mistrust repeating itself with shameful regularity. Fortunately, Indiana knew nothing about these machinations, though she ran into Samuel Hamilton so often, and in such unexpected situations, that after a while they would say hello to one another.
Perhaps surprisingly, Blanca was my favorite character throughout a great of the novel.
Blanca was Clara and Esteban’s first daughter, she was very close to her mother, though she herself possessed none of Clara’s skills. Blanca is characterized by her ability to love. She loves without reason of lack; she loves completely. It is this ability that saves her from all of her character flaws. We see that Alba criticizes her mother for not immediately running away with her lover, Pedro, and attributes this to her mother simply not loving him enough. Eventually, she does run away with him and they live, as they say, happily ever after (hopefully).
I found Blanca’s tale a tribute the the capacity of a woman’s love, and the capacity of the strength that one can draw from it. For example, Blanca is forced to marry a noble frenchman, who has rather queer sexual tastes and is perhaps hinted at having a sexual relationship with one of the male Indians that he employs. She is disturbed, and runs away at the exact moment that her water breaks. Yet Blanca had the strength to run, despite her fears.
Blanca is also stubborn and likes to live a comfortable life. When everyone is suffering, she fearfully hides food away, so much so that it goes bad. However, despite all of these qualities, her narrative is saved by her unyielding love for Pedro. It is this love that she draws from, and I found that strength, that pool of love, very moving.
I’m going to start my character analysis / discussion by talking about Jamie, from The House of the Spirits (THTS). He was one of my favorite supporting characters of the novel, and a smaller task than looking at Clara, or Alba right away.
Jamie is the son of Clara and Esteban. He is the younger brother of Blanca, and the twin of Nicolás. As Jamie grew older, he was sent with his brother to an English preparatory school. He then went to medical school, and became a doctor who mostly served the poor. Jamie was not very close with his brother Nicolás or his sister Blanca, or his parents (Clara / Esteban). He was very close with Alba, Blanca’s daughter, and slightly jealous of her romantic companions (Miguel).
Jamie developed a very big sense of self-sacrifice. He would do anything, for anyone who he felt needed it. As a young man, he was in love with Amanda (at first Nicolás’ lover), however she left. When they met again, she was in love with him and he was not, though he was too kind to shun her. As he became older, he became close friends with The President, which ultimately led to his death. He was killed during the military coup, quite brutally.
Jamie embodies the idiom, “give someone the shirt off one’s back.” He will literally take off his clothes to give to another person in need. This idiom has a biblical connotation (Sweet Revenge, (Matthew 5:38-42, Romans 12:17-21)), which is interesting because Jamie, as a character, despises religion. When Alba joked about her propensity to become a nun, he was very, very against it.
He is a very selfless human being, who did everything to help the people of the nation come out of poverty, but there was simply too much to be done. As a character, Jamie does a good job in embodying the helplessness people in such a state of poverty feel. He is often overwhelmed by his work, but that does not stop him from trying. Additionally his senseless death exemplifies how the government of this country killed the ones who are trying to save it. Jamie, the embodiment of good, was murdered by the same government that was suppose to “help.”
Jamie loves Amanda as a young adult, yet when he gets older, he does not feel the same way. Though he tries to distance himself, he can’t bring himself to hurt her, thus is complacent in their relationship. Jamie wants to love her again. Even in matters of the heart, Jamie is completely selfless, and sees Amanda as an individual worth his love.
Physically, Jamie is also quite large. He was described as larger than Nicolás and use to defend him in fights that happened in school. This contrast, between his kind personality and his strong physicality, creates an interesting juxtaposition. It gives me Of Mice and Men vibes, because even though Jamie is quite intelligent, he is too kind to ever use his immense physical strength anymore.
I found Jamie’s death the most shattering. It was a great juxtaposition, and a great show of the terrible things that Latin America does to itself. The violent regime changes that hurt its own people and its own country. RIP Jamie!
Here is some other angles to The House of the Spirits, in case anyone needs some more opinions!
First things first: I’ve been absent from the blog writing lately, and I feel terrible about it. It’s been a busy month – I spoke at two conferences, had several major projects for work, continue to work on my master’s degree, and I’m planning my wedding (which is on the 22nd of this month, so brace yourselves for another potential absence). I love writing my reviews, but when the heat’s on and it’s crunch time, they are the first thing I have to knock off my plate. With that said, I do hope to get back to a regular update schedule and build another buffer so I still have things posting while I’m on my honeymoon. And now, let’s talk about Isabel Allende!
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I’m going to break up this heavy analysis section with some of my favorite quotes from the novel! I always pick out quotes that strike me when I am reading them, so we will see how weird they are now (lol)
Get ready to be awed:
I would have loved her without interruption almost till infinity
Knocking down trees to make room for telephone poles, knocking down telephones to make room for buildings, knocking down buildings to plant trees
She was one of those people who are born for the greatness of a single love, for exaggerated hatred, for apocalyptic vengeance, and for the most sublime forms of heroism
Jamie removed the cord from around her neck, held her upside down and dangled her in the air, and with two resounding slaps introduced her into the suffering of life and the mechanics of breathing. But Amanda, who had read about the customs of African tribes and preached a return to nature, seized the newborn from his hands and gently placed her on the warm belly of her mother, where she found some consolation for the sadness of being born.
Great and beautiful quotes!
(thank you Minions for showing the appropriate level of excitement we should feel from these quotes)