Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Review:: Portrait in Sepia, by Isabel Allende

Title: Portrait in Sepia
Author: Isabel Allende
Format: Hardcover
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

With ties to Daughter of Fortune and The House of the Spirits, Portrait in Sepia had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it's never lived up to. With most of the magical realism thrown to the wayside and a meandering narrative, Portrait in Sepia doesn't manage the attain the sting of Allende's other works.

In a lot of ways, this book felt like it was Allende condensed. It deals with all of her major themes, but without any of the charm she usually leaves: strong (but broken) female protagonist, race issues, war, politics, and sexism. In fact, I feel like if there was an Allende bingo card, I would have gotten a blackout.

The story goes through telling the rather intricate and sordid details of Aurora's family's life. In fact, most of the book focuses on things that happened before Aurora was even born. And sure, I guess these things are necessary to the story, but it really felt like the story was lost for direction for a good part.

It's cute, seeing the later story of Daughter of Fortune and observing the setup for The House of the Spirits. But it feels like Allende is more trying to tie strings together, and less produce a fantastic work of literature. Unfortunately, she's set herself up so that I now expect that.

If the subject material weren't so much her standard stock, it might have made for some enjoyable light reading. In fact, it was pretty light. I'm used to having to take a while to get through her books, but this one passed by quickly and with almost no difficulty. But when you're dealing with dark themes taken seriously, it doesn't make for light reading.

Folks who really enjoy Allende would probably enjoy this book, but I'm not sure they'd take much more out of it. I mostly like to read Allende for her magical realism, but unfortunately, it's only hinted at, and only really dealt with at the end of the book. And as a tale of historical fiction, it really doesn't stand out.

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