[(essay date 1992) In the essay below, de Carvalho examines the self-exploration of the narrators in Eva Luna and The House of the Spirits.]
Isabel Allende has noted that La casa de los espíritus (1982) is the story of her family, or of a family similar to her own. She says that her grandmother was in fact clairvoyant and telekinetic, essentially similar to Clara. It follows, then, that Alba, who turns out to be the narrator, in many ways represents the author herself, the one who consolidates and disseminates the magically real family history. She is the heir to her grandmother's and mother's treasury of stories, which she combines with the equally tragic and fantastic level of her own experience, to produce written literature--to produce, in fact, La casa de los espíritus. Five years later, in Eva Luna, Allende presents us with another storyteller, this time seen completely from the first-person perspective. As does Alba Trueba (and Allende), Eva tells the stories that she learned, this time from her mother, but the stories are so intermingled with her own imagination and experience as to be completely her own.
All these women are storytellers. Clara del Valle and Consuelo, Eva Luna's mother, represent an important source for the style and content of the stories; Alba and Eva, and Isabel Allende, state that they write to record the history, to fix their roots. Clara and Consuelo tell stories, yet neither novel culminates with this phase of creation, but rather with the transformation of their stories into literature, a process which goes far beyond copying old notebooks. Alba is gradually led from a childhood of overflowing creativity (first emerging in painting) to a life of political commitment. Although she writes down Blanca's stories as a child, and "anotaba también las cosas que le parecían importantes," she does this "tal como lo hacía su abuela Clara," as a storyteller; she is not a literary artist until the end of the novel, after a complex process of maturation and awareness--a process which includes freedom and restriction, joy and despair, success and failure. This growth process towards literature is the primary focus of Eva Luna.
Eva Luna, then, is a novel of artistic self-exploration, a kind of Bildungsroman similar to Joyce's Portrait of the Artist or Lezama Lima 's Paradiso. As in these novels, the episodes recounted are symbolic, important only in their effect on the narrator's own development. Eva Luna describes a process which clearly reflects Allende's own progess towards the publication of her first novel at the relatively late age of 38. Like Alba and Eva, the Chilean author was always a writer--of diaries, of journalism, of horoscopes and advice columns--but not of what is generally accepted as literature. The actual cause of this development, or the elements which compose the artist, are extremely difficult to define, for the artist herself and for literary critics. Yet her exploration of this mystery, begun in Casa de los espíritus, may be seen as the connecting thread...