by Cristina Lopez Barrio
The Laguna women have suffered under a curse for unknown generations: each Laguna will find only tragedy in love, and she'll give birth only to daughters who carry on the curse. Clara Laguna, a golden-eyed beauty, defies her mother's warnings and begins a passionate affair with a young hunter, but he soon leaves her with nothing but a large house and a swollen belly. Clara swears revenge and turns his home into a house of prostitution. As subsequent generations of Laguna women are raised in the house, her life is shaped by Clara's vengeful spirit. One daughter tries to turn her back on everything Laguna and become respectable; another is so shattered at the death of her lover that she returns regularly to his grave for decades under the cloak of night to weep over her loss. Behind the closed doors of Scarlet Manor, passions run high and vengeance saturates everything, turning the Laguna women against the world outside and family within.
I have very mixed feelings about this book. The writing is excellent, evocative and seductive. From the first page you are drawn into the small town life of the Laguna, and their world casts a spell. Cristina Lopez Barrio is a storyteller, and her words invite the reader to forge an intimate connection with her characters. But this is where it falls short. Her characters take quirkiness to such an extreme that I don't really want to be so close to them. Manuela, daughter of Clara, is forced into prostitution at an early age. The experience warps her so much that she the only vent she can find for her rage is by killing chickens and tormenting cockroaches. When she gives birth to a beautiful daughter, she resents the child and spends her days beating the girl and trying to eradicate her good looks. When Manuela catches her daughter with her lover, she forces the boy to make love to her before shooting him with a rifle. She's a dreadful, twisted woman – and she's only one of the Laguna. They are all seriously flawed, which makes them interesting but also abhorrent.
It's a very sensual novel. Sex and food becoming increasingly linked with each generation. A servant of Clara so loves her mistress that she sneaks things that her mistress touches – food, pots, hair, anything – to eat and savor on the sly. As the years pass, this servant because creepier and creepier. But she's hardly the only chef; all the Laguna women cook, and cook well. When Manuela's daughter Olvido cooks, she kisses ingredients and drips sauce on her nipples to test for temperature and consistency. Any man who sees her in the kitchen falls head over heels for her...throw in that curse, and you know it'll never end well.
The House of Impossible Loves does tend to ramble, though, and the never-ending backstabbing and anger and bitterness just wore me out. It's a novel that needs endurance, but at the end I'm not sure the journey was worth the time and effort to get through.
The writing style of this book reminds me strongly of authors like Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, falling into the magic realism tradition. I've seen a lot of reviewers also compare it to Like Water for Chocolate, but as I've never read that book I can't confirm the similarities. I personally didn't like the book, but I am the first to admit that it's beautifully written, and if you like these authors you'll enjoy this one, too.
4 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Hetalia Vol. 2 by Hidekaz Himaruya
2011: Elizabeth's Women by Tracy Borman
2010: News: Press “Pause” on the Piranha
2009: The Rapture by Liz Jensen
2008: Tan Lines by J. J. Salem