Isabel Allende | Critical Review by John Butt

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Isabel Allende.
This section contains 675 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by John Butt

SOURCE: "Night with Real Men," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4584, February 8, 1991, p. 12.

In the review below, Butt focuses on the romantic themes in The Stories of Eva Luna.

Readers of Isabel Allende's previous novel, Eva Luna, will recall that we left the left-wing waif in Cloud Cuckoo Land in the arms of the dashing international photo-journalist Rolf Carle: "He strode forward and kissed me exactly as it happens in romantic novels, exactly as I had been wanting him to for a century, and exactly as I had been describing moments before in my Bolero."

The purpose of the curious self-parody in the last part of the sentence was transparent. By casting Eva Luna as a writer of soap operas, the author could attribute to her such passages as the one just quoted. All of Isabel Allende's novels have tended to show romantic love conquering all, but Eva's adolescent effusions seem now to call for a disclaimer.

Responsibility is disowned in this new volume of twenty-three stories [The Stories of Eva Luna] by making Eva the author of all of them. She is thus able to indulge her vaguely masochistic fantasies at will, explicitly transmuted into a latter-day Scheherazade entertaining Rolf Carle while he recovers from their embraces. The formula is much as before: women realizing that their destiny is to love and be loved by men, men transformed by falling in love with or making love to women, women sexually fulfilled and over-fulfilled but never losing their schoolgirl emotional purity. A woman kept underground as a sex slave for forty-seven years still loves her captor because he "almost never left me hungry"; a virgin raped and forced to watch her father's murder can't avenge herself because she is "in love" with her tormentor; a happy and conscientious prostitute has a night with a "real" man, falls in love and disappears with him at dawn; a dictator turns soft because a woman whispers two secret words in his ear—no doubt te amo.

These synopses will show that Eva Luna is not a complete escapist. Isabel Allende's books have never refused to acknowledge the brutality of Latin America, although her recent work is much less in touch with what is going on there than The House of the Spirits and Of Love and Shadows, in which the true-life romance was to some extent kept in check by harrowing accounts of Pinochet's Chile. In these stories, too, Eva's faith in the regenerative powers of love-making is regularly tested against awful accounts of pain and hardship. But the political edge has gone and her rose-tinted view of life remains as in "Our Secret", where a one-night stand is transformed into an experience of true love when the couple discover they were both once tortured.

In this respect the final story is particularly upsetting. It borrows the heart-rending true story, widely publicized a few years ago, of a little girl who died in a volcanic mud-slide in Colombia. In this version Rolf Carle is one of the first on the scene, battling to save the child while the doting Eva watches him on television. The awful real-life tragedy seems to have been brought into this fantasy with the aim of showing that absolutely nothing is able to break the spell of true Romance. Rolf is traumatized, but "I know that when you return from your nightmares, we shall again walk hand in hand".

Isabel Allende's books constantly show women as people who depend on men—the odd exception in this collection proving the rule. Her heroines' lives are usually legitimized by their being in love with or desired by some male, and Eva Luna is a classic instance, insofar as she is a woman who is in large measure a story-teller because she has been "enfolded" by her lover's "invincible legs", as the prologue hair-raisingly puts it (the translation says "fastened"). Despite this lamentable image, Isabel Allende's numerous erotic passages are actually quite well done. She might do better to write straight pornographic books without the apologetic romantic adornments.

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This section contains 675 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by John Butt
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