....last night I finished "Island Beneath The Sea' by Isabel Allende. I feel dirty and disappointed.
What has changed since 'Eva Luna' and 'House of Spirits' curled my teenage toes?
Well, I have changed and so has Allende - and she has changed more than me.
Both Eva Luna and 'House of Spirits' stand up today and resonate for what they are - harbingers of the end of the boom in Latin American Magical Realism. Yes, lacking the scope and depth of Garcia Marquez or Llosa - though spirited and delightful reads about magic lived in real life.
Allende's literary career began then - and her writing career has boomed since.
She struck lit dirt with the sweet yet dark stories of Eva Luna - and it has been downhill since then.
With her latest offering, I felt as if my synapses shrivelled up and cowered, before eventually breaking off and clogging my entire brain as I continued to read.
For a woman who has lived through personal tragedy she has an inordinate ability to skim the surface, the scummy and un-nourishing surface, of the human condition.
I got in to a 'discussion' last week with a friend, quite a heated one, as neither of us are skilled at argument to foment conversation - about whether it is better to read 'trash' than to not read at all - a week ago I believed it was better to read than not - better read than dead, if you will allow me that distortion, though having finished the Allende, I feel it important to delve deeper in to that notion.
In this casestudy 'Island Beneath the Sea' is the trash. It is predictably mainstream 20th Century Latin American: historic, hysteric, histrionic.
Beginning in the 1700s on the island of Saint Domingue (now Haiti) it tells the inter-generational story of a French plantation owner and his slaves.
It is impossible to believe that Allende does not have a researcher - and in some parts of the book it seems she is quoting directly from the researcher's notes - or the things she jotted down as she spoke with historians, copied from historic sources in the library or transcribed from her personal shorthand as she watched documentaries.
So - why is reading trash better than reading nothing:
1) one becomes aware of how one does not want to write
2) 'Trash' often features time and place of social and political import- and this provides the reader with opportunity to glean what the author has learned from their researcher.
3) reading is always better for the brain and mind than zonking our in front of the television (the song is quite simply NOT 'books; drug of a nation'). There is more active brain activity when reading than when watching the box.
4) we read for different reasons; to transform, to inform, to entertain, to waste time, to enhance time. All of these reasons are as valid as the other.
So - yes, even after the saccharine torture of 'Island Beneath The Sea' I still think that it is better to read 'trash' than to not read at all.