Friday, June 03, 2005

Zorro -- Isabel Allende

Never having read a book by Isabel Allende, I didn't know what to expect of her version of the Zorro story. But, being a Zorro fan, I wanted to read the book to see what Allende had to offer.

Not much, as it turns out. What we have here is a "prequel," sort of a "how Zorro became Zorro" story. Except that instead of being a prequel to the original tale by Johnston McCulley, this novel is a prequel to every Zorro movie you've ever seen, as we learn how Diego de la Vega became a wonderful magician, acrobat, swordsman, and so on. We find out how the fox became his totem animal and how he learned to hate injustice. Not to mention how he got so handy with a bullwhip. We even get a long section with Jean Lafitte when Diego is captured by pirates. So why wasn't I thrilled?

First of all, let me admit that I'm in a minority. Most reviewers and readers seem to love the book. Maybe I didn't like it because Allende is sort of the anti-Robert B. Parker. Parker tells his stories with tons of dialogue. Allende doesn't seem to like dialogue at all. As for me, I'm with Alice (of Wonderland fame), who, as I dimly recall, said something along these lines, "What good is a book without conversations in it?" Allende writes page after page after page with no conversations at all, and sometimes the page after page after page of writing is all one paragraph. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The paragraphs are fluidly written and easy enough to read. But isn't the primary rule of writing supposed to be "show, don't tell"? This book is 95% telling and 5% showing.

And then there's the narration. About 1/3 of the way through, the narrator suddenly intrudes in the first person, something that happens a couple more times. The narrator is playing coy with us for reasons we discover later. I have a feeling this is Allende's "literary" side, and it's supposed to be a cute little joke, but I wasn't impressed.

And the section with the pirates? Geez. This part of the book sounds like it was intended for some bodice-ripper with Lafitte on the cover, modeled of course by Fabio. Gimme a break.

What it comes down to, probably, is this: Given the choice between Allende's version and the original by McCulley (which I re-read a year or so ago), I'll take the old pulpster any time. Just another example of my low taste in literature.


Anonymous said...

I think I'll wait for it to show up at the library.

"Magical Realism" has never been one of my favorite literary genres.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Thanks, Bill, for saying what needs to be said.

For Ms. Allende's next work, may I suggest The Emperor's New Clothes.

I'll bet it's no Jungle Jim.

James Reasoner said...

You won't get any argument from me about preferring McCulley over Allende. I'd heard enough good things about her Zorro novel that I picked it up at the library. I gave up on it because she had no grasp on the character and no idea what makes a pulp novel work. I had the same reaction to most of the stories in that McSweeny's anthology which featured literary authors trying to write pulp-influenced stories. In most cases, they just don't get it.