A Book Review Blog

Category: Magical realism

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

Of all the books that I have on my reading list, this was the one that I had most trepidation about starting. There was the inevitable concern that the controversy about it and the possibility that it would eclipse whatever actual merit the book would contain. But, as I had received the book as part of a larger bundle of audiobooks, it seemed a bit of a waste to just leave it languishing on my computer unread. The fact that my attempts to listen to it on my tablet made it sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks were narrating did somewhat mar the experience too.

The Satanic Verses follows two Indian actors who miraculously survive the explosion of a hijacked plane over the English Channel, and the strange changes that come over them following this. First there is the popular Bollywood star Gibreel Farishta chasing after a lost love, who finds himself taking on the personality and divine powers of the archangel Gibreel. The other is Saladin Chamcha, a long-time resident of London returning from an unsuccessful reunion with his father, who takes on the rather more unfortunate shape of a satyr-like devil. Interspersed in their narratives about their lives after these unusual and distressing changes, are dreams that Farishta has about events in his celestial persona’s past. First is the sequence starting with the episode of the Satanic verses. Second is a sequence focusing on a modern day Imam in exile. Third is a sequence following a seer named Ayesha, who convinces her village to go on a foot pilgrimage to Mecca, claiming that she will invoke God’s will and part the sea for them to reach their destination.
Before I continue onto the review properly, there is something that I feel should tackle, if only briefly, lest it become an elephant in the room. I’ve been able to find out the basics of why The Satanic Verses was so controversial with some Islamic readers, mostly in response to the dream sequence about the Satanic verses themselves. And while I can definitely understand that some of the imagery and allegorical naming would be considered incendiary, I won’t pretend to know enough in the realm of religious scholarship to comment too deeply on them. In addition, I would rather not start up a discussion about free speech here, because it is a complex subject that I would only be able to scratch the surface of. All I suppose I would commit to here is that while I am all for people facing up to the consequences of their proclamations, it is a step too far to try and kill someone for those statements.
Right then, so onto the actual book. The Satanic Verses is an ambitious work focusing primarily on the immigrant experience in Thatcher-era Britain, and the strict divide between white and non-white cultures. Chamcha’s insistence throughout the majority of the book to model himself off of the ideal aristocratic, stiff-upper-lip style of Englishman, only becomes more pathetic and futile as the narrative goes on and he finds that London has retained all of the smugness inherent in conquerors but none of the sophistication. Similarly, Farishta’s increasingly unhinged attempts to mold London to his city of ideals only ends with disillusionment. The book does a lot of clever things to create multiple, interconnecting stories of isolation and the conflict between being unyielding and maintaining one’s cultural identity vs compromise and changing to suit your new culture. It does a lot of interesting things, but still I find myself quite content to never re-read this book. I think I may have a similar reaction to Salman Rushdie that I do to Gabriel Garcia Marquez: the books they write may be very clever and worthy of study, but it does nothing for me emotionally. The Satanic Verses is a book that, were I still in university, I would be quite happy to study and analyse to death, but I very much doubt that I will revisit it for reasons of pleasure. This is a matter of personal taste though, and I do wonder whether I would have been more forgiving if I had been allowed to tackle the text at my own pace instead of in the irregular intervals where it would be appropriate to be anti-social for hours at a time.

A clever and interesting novel about the immigrant experience in Thatcher-era Britain that unfortunately didn’t really do much for me. Definitely more a text for debate and analysis than it is for pleasure. For those readers who are Islamic, then there are definitely elements that could be controversial, but I don’t feel that I am really the person most qualified to discuss how inflammatory the novel is or isn’t. 3/5

Next review: Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Signing off,

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

There are two main reasons that I can think of why I picked up Perfume. Firstly, the idea of a man who kills in order to preserve the scent of a young virgin is kind of fascinating in a sickening way, and there is a part of me that does relish narratives like that every once in a while. Secondly, I have very little sense of smell myself and I was curious to see what a novel with smell as its primary sense would read like. I guess I wanted to see if it could be conveyed clearly even to someone with my dulled olfactory sense.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer follows Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an intensely strange and disturbing man throughout his equally disturbing life. From the moment that he is abandoned by his mother to die beneath her fish stall, he is seen as different by those who meet him, though they couldn’t necessarily be able to explain why. Whilst growing up, he realises that he has an unusually heightened sense of smell, and he develops a desire to become the world’s greatest perfumer and to recreate the particularly exquisite scent of a young virgin girl. And he will do anything in order to possess that scent.
Perfume is an odd book to try and review, because while there is nothing that I can point to within the novel and say that this part is badly written or included unwisely, there is something about the work as a whole that left me a bit cold.
I suppose that I can start with what definitely did work, which was the writing itself. It is kind of unusual for me, most of the time I can point at characters, scenes or even themes that endeared me most to the book. But here, it was the style itself that really caught me. In some ways, it reminds me a little of The Child of Pleasure by Gabriele d’Annunzio, because the two have a similar way of enriching their comparatively simple narratives with grandiose sensory accompaniment. Where d’Annunzio focuses on visuals, Suskind brings this world to life through a cavalcade of different scents. I keep trying to think how to describe it and the word lush always seems to come to mind: rich and abundant, if not always (or indeed often) pleasant. It is an enthralling experience to imagine that crush of scents and definitely makes up for some of the lesser elements of the book.
I suppose that my main issue is with the main character, Grenouille. Don’t misunderstand me, in his own way he is an interesting and well-written character. It was certainly refreshing to have a villain protagonist at least. I suppose my issue with him is that he is more or less a static character. While he creates conflict and has epiphanies about himself throughout the novel, I didn’t feel that there was much real change in him at all. At various points in the narrative, he is compared to a tick, parasitic and infinitely patient. Neither of those key personality traits change at all, and considering that his is the perspective that the narrator sticks to for long chunks of the novel it does start to feel a little flat and one-note at times. It’s not a huge issue, but I found it noticeable enough to bother me.

I found Perfume an odd book, but a mostly satisfying read. I would give it a shot simply for the lush sensory element of the writing style, although I did find myself a bit bothered by the static characterisation of the villain protagonist Grenouille. A book that I would recommend maybe reading once, but I can’t see myself re-reading it any time soon. 3.5/5

Next review: Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is probably a book that I would have eventually gotten around to reading, for two reasons. One, I had heard very good things about it, even from people who don’t normally like fantasy. Two, I had read some of his work before, mainly the first couple volumes of the Sandman comics and liked what I’d seen. As it was, my fiance practically begged me to read it next, and seeing as that was several months ago, I can’t really keep putting it off. 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane follows the unnamed narrator as he returns to the country lane where he spent his early childhood, and finds himself drawn to the house at the very end of the lane. There, he reminisces about the childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock by name, who used to live there with her mother and grandmother and believed that the duck-pond in her garden was an ocean. At first, his childhood looks to be normal, if unusually solitary for a seven year old boy. It is only when a lodger of his parents’ kills himself in the family car that strange things begin to occur, and the narrator finds himself a mostly unwilling participant in the upcoming events. 
I finished this book this morning, and my first thought was “Well, that happened.” While that sounds flippant, it was meant in the kind of distressed bewilderment that accompanies the ending of a very well-written book that you have no clue what the meaning of it was meant to be. I suppose the thing that really caught me off-guard was the surreal, languid sort of tone that it had. Things certainly happened, quite distressing things at times, but it always seemed like it was happening at arm’s length somehow. I suppose that the closest thing that I can compare it to would be a fairy tale: vivid events told in such a way that they are given distance and a strange, off-kilter viewpoint. The other thing that caught me out at the end was the feeling that the story wasn’t finished. Not in terms of actual plot-line, that was absolutely fine. I mean in a more deliberate way; the story feels unfinished because the narrator isn’t ready to let it go yet. The overall effect of this, mixed with the aforementioned tone, seems to be that of a myth for adults, the kind of simple story that we kind of forget about and underestimate as we grow older. 
As I’ve ruminated over the course of the day, I was wondering what Ocean at the End of the Lane was about, at least for me. I kept coming back to a line of dialogue that turns up towards the end. The line in question was, “Does it make you feel big to make a little boy cry?” It wasn’t a moment that initially seemed huge in context, but it stayed in my head far longer than other parts, and when that happens it’s usually a sign to pay attention. So I guess for me, it’s become a kind of fable about the damage that can happen to children when they come into conflict with adults; you sort of assume that with age comes wisdom, but there are a lot of essential things that you sort of deliberately forget as you grow. When that comes into conflict with what we’ve decided is “grown-up” behaviour, then the child is almost guaranteed to lose, regardless of whether that’s right or not. It’s something that Gaiman keeps pointing to throughout the story and it got more than a little uncomfortable. Maybe I needed to feel a little uncomfortable. 
It’s an odd book to recommend. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who wants the feelings to be simple and clear-cut, because that is as far from what you’ll get as is possible to define. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a book that reads simply, but feels much bigger than you would expect from 243 pages. I’ve done my best to define what it’s left me, but I think that personal experience will always trump my descriptions. 5/5 
Next review: White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick 
Signing off, 

Zorro by Isabel Allende

Seriously, who wouldn’t pick up a book chronicling the origin story of El Zorro, aka Diego de la Vega? The image of the swashbuckling bandit fighting for justice is one that has endured since 1919 for a reason. Having enjoyed Allende’s The House of the Spirits, I could see no real reason to pass up the opportunity to try this incarnation of Zorro. 

From what I can gather, Zorro was written with the intent that it lead on cleanly into the old pulp novels, whilst being a lot more consistent and adventurous with its subject matter. The novel chronicles the first twenty years of Diego’s life, including his first adventures as Zorro. That as an idea isn’t a bad one; an origin story is always a good bet if you’re looking to re-examine or re-invigorate an old character, as superhero movies can testify all too well. And this is an origin story that is written very well indeed. It has only one flaw. It starts far too slowly. When I say that Zorro covers the first twenty years of his life, the reader is presented with something from almost every single one of them. Much as I realise that a large chunk of it adds to the character development of the main character, it means that the first 150 pages or so are a lot slower, as his childhood in California unfolds. After he leaves for Spain, the proceedings do get more interesting though. If you can, I would stick out the slow beginning, because the warmth and humour that emerges as the story goes on are well worth the effort. The other, smaller issue that I have is that it ends in a way that feels almost incomplete: it makes sense to end where it does, but at the same time it’s really obvious that you’re supposed to find the original novels afterwards as a kind of “true” ending. 
The characters are incredibly well-written. The main ones that we follow throughout the novel are Diego, Bernardo and the de Romeu sisters. Diego, obviously our main protagonist, is pretty much everything you’ve come to expect from Zorro: handsome, dashing, cunning and with a strong moral core tempered by vanity. I was expecting more of a ladies’ man, but that only comes in towards the end, when he is beginning to get more comfortable with his Zorro persona; before that his attempts at seduction and courtship are simultaneously laughable and endearing. Bernardo is Diego’s brother in everything but blood, an Indian who acts first as his double, then, after an event that renders him electively mute, as his shadow. He was a nice enough character, but I didn’t really find much about him to really get excited about: he is the rock that stops the other, more vivid characters from making the story too absurd. The de Romeu sisters are made up of Juliana, an innocent girl of extreme beauty and Diego’s unrequited love throughout the majority of the novel, and Isabel, a tomboy who is as fiesty and dashing as Diego as well as a seriously good judge of character. Juliana wasn’t really my kind of character: well-written certainly, but the kind of romantic that I tire of incredibly quickly. Isabel, on the other hand, was possibly my favourite character in the entire novel. It was her that I was rooting for, hoping against hope that she would get a happy ending. 
Overall, a solid read for anyone looking for a bit of adventure, if you’re willing to look past a slow beginning and some odd pacing. For fans of Zorro, this is a no-brainer. 4/5 
Next review: This One’s a Lemon by H. M. Gordon 
Signing off, 

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

This is an odd one. I don’t even know whether I can really call Invisible Cities a novel or not. This isn’t the first time I’ve read Calvino’s work before; no, my first introduction to his work was ‘Night Driver’, a short story that firmly places his work into the postmodern. Even knowing that, I’m still not sure what to make of this.

The blurb of my edition states two things. First, that the book is Marco Polo talking to Kublai Khan about the cities within his realm, all of which are actually aspects of his home city, Venice. Second, a quote from Gore Vidal that states, “Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of […] Invisible Cities, perfectly irrelevant.” I would be more inclined to believe Gore Vidal. While you do get scenes of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan talking, it is pretty bare and lacking conflict as a “plot”; in my head, Invisible Cities is more an exercise in world building than it is an actual novel. The majority of its chapters are 1-2 page descriptions of a fantastical city. How many of them are supposed to relate to Venice, I’m not sure; the only ones that rang true for me was one with canals (obviously) and one which is constantly under construction for fear that it will crumble once construction ends (it brought to mind the rapidly crumbling foundations). Just because their relation to the real world is tenuous at best is not a criticism from me. Far from it, in fact; whilst I was discussing what I was reading with my boyfriend, we realised just how much potential each of these cities contained. There was something about their weirdness, their unique spin on a city, that really captured my imagination in a way that I haven’t experienced for years now.

This was a pretty short review, all in all. I would definitely recommend Invisible Cities, especially to those who read as an appreciation of writing as a craft, and those who enjoy the world-building aspect of it in particular. I can see it boring people who insist on deep and involving narratives, but I would recommend giving it a go. 5/5

Next review: Demian by Hermann Hesse

Signing off,

The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

This is one of those books that I picked up on a whim really. I’d heard it mentioned on a blog somewhere, but otherwise knew nothing, and I suppose it appealed to the part of me that likes to learn about other cultures, considering the obvious Indian viewpoint. So I went into this completely blind, and more than a little tired out from How the Dead Live as well as more essays than I could count. I think this was the change of pace that I needed.

The Mistress of Spices follows an Indian woman named Tilo who runs a spice shop in California. On the surface, she’s a normal old woman, if unusually observant. What her customers don’t know is that she is the eponymous Mistress of Spices, which means that she can communicate with the different spices in her shop and use their latent mystical properties to help the Indian immigrants who visit her shop. There are, however, certain rules that Tilo must follow in order to stay in the spices’ favour and thus keep her powers, such as staying impartial, dispensing wisdom and help equally to those who enter the shop; this rule in particular is broken as the novel progresses, as she gets intimately involved in the lives of several of her customers, especially that of an enigmatic American who arouses in her the most forbidden of feelings for a Spice Mistress: love. 
I will just state this so that it’s out of the way. I love the use of spices as a medium for magic ability. It creates a sense of structure that tends to be missing in a lot of books involving magical realism. Pretty much every event in the book can be traced back to a moment in which Tilo made use of particular spices. The outcomes can usually be traced to how the spices consider Tilo at any one moment too: while most of her spells at the beginning go pretty much as expected, the more rules she breaks and the more emotionally invested she is, the higher the likelihood is that they will backfire on her in some way, particularly if she has to actively impose her will on to the spices. I think that the fact that the spices could be considered this kind of multi-headed/hive mind character makes the magic system really interesting and different. 
In terms of characters, this is an ensemble cast, so even if you don’t like one character, there’s bound to be maybe two or three others that you do like in their place. The only ones who get any real in-depth characterisation though are Tilo and the American (whose name you do find out, but I shan’t spoil it for you). 
With Tilo, the reader gets the majority of her backstory in the first few chapters, covering her journey from her home village, where she was lauded as a mystic and feared by the rest of her family, to her life in the guise of an old woman in California. The American’s past is more drawn out in comparison, as he decides to tell Tilo about his life through several different meetings. Both are fairly sympathetic, yet incredibly flawed people, and their attraction to one another is, if a little odd when you consider them as a couple from a more objective viewpoint, very sweet and with good chemistry. 
Overall, I really liked this novel, especially following the utter loss I was at after How the Dead Live. I would be more than happy to recommend this, as it is incredibly readable and very well written. 4.5/5 
Next review: Henry VI Part 2 by William Shakespeare 
Signing out, 

How the Dead Live by Will Self

Oh boy, where to begin with this one? Will Self is one of those authors that I’ve known about for a long time, but had little actual information on his work. I’d seen him a few times on the rare occasion that I watch TV nowadays, but that was about as far as my knowledge went. So when I saw How the Dead Live on sale, I figured that there was little harm in trying it out. Now that I’ve actually read it, I’m not sure how much more I know about him.

How the Dead Live follows the late life and afterlife of the narrator Lily Bloom, a generally cantankerous and unpleasant old woman. In life, the reader sees her deal with her two daughters: Charlie, the elder daughter who is pretty much a non-entity amalgamation of everything that is socially acceptable, and Natasha, a needy and manipulative junky. In death, she has to contend with a calcified foetus obsessed with pop songs from the 70s, three manifestations of all the fat that she’s lost, gained and regained through years of dieting and the angry soul of her long dead son. From that description, it sounds pretty damn interesting. And at times it is. But for the most part, it just left me confused. Not confused in a plot sense: in that respect it’s pretty straightforward. It left me confused as to how I’m meant to feel about all of this. For instance, the spirits that Lily has to exist with make it sound as if the afterlife is some incredibly strange Twilight Zone type of place; it’s really not. All the afterlife is in this is normal life, except you don’t need to breathe, eat or sleep. After a while she even begins to ignore or forget the weird manifestations around her. Considering she’s the narrator, that means that the reader begins to forget them too, which I don’t think should be the case; they’re what interested me on the blurb, so for them to be forgotten so easily is really disappointing. Although I suppose that that may be the whole point: have an afterlife that is exactly the same as life, and you minimise the fear and reverence surrounding it. I guess my main problem with this book is that at times it seems clever and witty, but there’s always an underlying current of irritation at the very cleverness that typifies the novel’s tone; much like my opinion of what I’ve seen of Will Self, now that I think about it. I think the only thing that I really genuinely enjoyed was the ludicrous nature of some of the deaths. Take Lily, for example. She is diagnosed with terminal breast cancer at the beginning of the book. After a few chapters, it spreads to the brain, thus making her demise imminent. It’s when the cancer hits her brain that it gets funny; she begins to rave and lose control of her actions, thoroughly freaking out everyone around her. That doesn’t sound all that funny, but if you have even a passing knowledge of cancer symptoms, it’s pretty damn obvious that this is not how cancer works. Generally, when you’ve got a brain tumour, you get some headaches and then you die; quick and relatively quietly, not gibbering like a loon. That was pretty much the only thing that I liked without reserve, simply for the ridiculousness of it. Otherwise, I’m still not sure what to make of this. I don’t dislike it, but then I don’t particularly care for it either. I feel like it provoked something for me mentally, but I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what that thing could be. I guess all I can say is that I feel uneasy because of this lack of knowing. Maybe that was the point all along.

I honestly don’t know what to say about this overall. I don’t feel I can really say either way whether this is a good or bad book. I guess if you’re looking for a “clever” book or you like Will Self, then yeah I could recommend this. Otherwise I’d probably give it a miss. 2.5/5

Next review: The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Signing off,

Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Having read One Hundred Years of Solitude last year, as I mentioned in my last review, I had some ideas or expectations of what I could find in Of Love and Other Demons. These expectations turned out to be more or less accurate, but to be honest I partly wish they hadn’t been.

So the story in Of Love and Other Demons is essentially that of a girl named Sierva Maria, who is locked up in a convent after her father is convinced that she has been possessed by demons after she is bitten by a rabid dog. During her time at the convent she is left in the care of Father Cayetano Delaura, who quickly falls in love with her which leads to their ultimately tragic fate. To be honest, I found this a bit too miserable. Love affairs are thwarted everywhere, married couples end up despising one another, children are neglected or spurned completely and a girl is subjected to a horrific fate because she is different and the Church can’t see that as anything other than demonic possession. It seems more like a tirade about intolerance and the dangers of religious fanaticism, instead of a story of a tragic love story. To be fair, the writing is solid and it is very quick and easy to read.
There are several characters who make a fairly important impact on the story, which surprised me considering that this is only about 140 pages long. There’s Sierva Maria’s parents, an apathetic man who makes a few attempts to bond with his daughter but ultimately sinks back into his solitude and an unlikeable woman who despises her daughter for looking like her father. There’s Abrenuncio, the only sane man in the story, who is the only doctor content with the fact that Sierva Maria won’t catch rabies. There’s the Bishop, who decides that Delaura is capable of exorcism and the Abbess who is convinced that every bit of bad luck or unusual circumstances is because of Sierva Maria. The only character who failed to have a real impact on me was Sierva Maria herself; because she appears so little compared to other characters, there is very little that the reader actually finds out about her other than that she makes really powerful first impressions.

Overall, this left me feeling neutral. I neither like it nor dislike it, which is kind of what I was expecting when I began reading. I would like to like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s work, but it just doesn’t seem to be. 3/5

Next review: Love is a Solitary Game by Esther Tusquets.

Signing off,

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

The House of the Spirits is one of those books that always ends up in countdowns like the “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die!”, much like Lolita, so it has quite a reputation to live up to. This is made especially interesting, for me at least, when I find out in the author biography that this was Isabel Allende’s d├ębut novel; I mean, it really has to be special if a novice author is the centre of all that attention. So, without any further rambling on my part, here’s my review.

Currently stuck in a bit of a mental rut at the moment, so this will probably be a very simple and straight-forward sort of review. So, first of all is the plot. To be honest, there isn’t much of a “plot” as such, seeing as The House of the Spirits is essentially a character study of the members of three generations of the Trueba family, who live somewhere in Latin America; to be honest I’m not entirely sure where, as it’s never directly stated, combined with the fact that my geography is absolutely abysmal and thus would be unlikely to know anyway. In any case, the novel tracks the various immediate family members through financial highs and lows, love affairs both fulfilled and unrequited and through monumental shifts in government, from conservative to socialist and so on. In terms of plot, this book reminds me very strongly of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, due to various similarities such as the focus on the family saga, the strong political context, the largely pessimistic outlook on the consequences of love and the atmosphere of spirituality permeating the entire narrative. So, to be honest, there were several moments where I was seriously reminded of other Latin American magical realism books that I’ve read over recent years, but I didn’t really mind too much as it gave the proceedings a nicely familiar feel to it despite this being my first time reading this book.
There are so many characters that turn up in this novel that I don’t think I’ll really get to talk about them all that much unless I allow this review to last forever. I will limit it to the more important members of the family, much as it pains me. One of the most important characters is undoubtedly the family’s patriarch, Esteban Trueba; a man who has decided that his family would have all the things that he lacked growing up, making himself a fortune in order to do that. Unfortunately, having worked his way to prosperity, he allows his temper and his unwillingness to change to emotionally isolate him from the majority of his family; he’s a character who is easy to sympathise with, but not easy to like due to his extremely conservative, survival-of-the-fittest mentality. His wife, Clara is easily the lynch-pin of the family, an eccentric woman who just about keeps her family from exploding into out-and-out conflict by imposing a base level of politeness for them to adopt. She’s also psychic, which I’m just coming to expect from Latin American novels now. There’s Blanca, Esteban and Clara’s daughter, who causes the main source of conflict when she falls in love with a peasant on her father’s farm, Pedro Tercero Garcia; unfortunately she is discovered mid-coitus by a colleague of her father’s, leaving her pregnant and firmly in Esteban’s contempt. Blanca has younger twin brothers as well, Nicolas and Jaime. Nicolas is a bit of a waste of space really; I rejoiced when Esteban made him move to the USA. Jaime, on the other hand, has to be my favourite character from The House of the Spirits. He’s a very shy, studious man who dedicates his life to helping others through his occupation as a doctor; unfortunately this dedication leads not only to a despair based on his inability to save everyone in his care but also to a near total lack of social skills that prevents him from confessing his feelings to anyone. The other main character that I’d be good to mention is that of Alba, Blanca and Pedro Tercero’s daughter. She takes up a great deal of focus in the last third or so of the story, as she is used mainly as a contrast between the more openly expressed desire for social equality compared to her grandfather’s firm belief in the system that has always been there; this is especially evident in her choice of lover, Miguel, a guerilla who believes that change must come through violent revolution. Overall, I found the characters nicely varied and the large cast turned out to be a real blessing: while there were characters I didn’t find that interesting or likeable, such as Nicolas, there were also characters that I could really sympathise with instead, like Jaime.

So overall? I really enjoyed it. There was a beautifully melancholy tone throughout and the character interactions are some of the best that I’ve seen in a while. I didn’t absolutely love it, but it’s very solid writing and a phenomenal first effort from Allende. 4/5

Next review: Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Signing off,

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