No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, May 30, 2010

2010/46: Zorro -- Isabel Allende

Until that moment Diego had not been conscious of his dual personality: one part Diego de la Vega, elegant, affected, hypochondriac, and the other part El Zorro, audacious, daring, playful. He supposed his true character lay somewhere in between, but he didn't know who he was: neither of the two nor the sum of both. (p.232)

Isabel Allende was approached by the owners of the rights to Zorro, in search of someone who could bring a Latin sensibility and a track-record in historical research to the character's backstory. Allende fits in plenty of swashbuckling, as is only proper considering her subject matter. There are pirates, zombies, gypsies; there are duels, secret societies, and elegant soirees; there are a number of resourceful females and dastardly villains.

Zorro describes the early life of the masked adventurer, from his birth to a Spanish Don and a warrior-princess of the Shoshone, through his youthful adventures with his blood-brother Bernardo (with whom he shares a mysterious, but seldom-referenced and underused, telepathic bond), to his exile from California and his life in Spain as a young nobleman with an overdeveloped sense of justice and a regrettable tendency to prolong adolescence. Zorro (who takes his name from a fox he meets during a Shoshone initiation ceremony) falls in love, avenges wrongs, joins the circus, poses as a pilgrim, encounters notorious pirate Jean Lafitte (from whom he picks up some sartorial inspirations), acquires his horse Tornado ...

There are some lovely passages, and the prose is very much in the style of a 19th-century romance. I do have a few issues with the translation: a ship takes a week to make a voyage, not 'a week's time'; 'waked' instead of 'woke' jars; 'as he doubtlessly deserves'.

Allende's narrator (who appears only gradually as a first-person voice, and whose identity is concealed until the last part of the book) may be why the novel lacks a certain spark: it's bound by the narrator's style, experience and social position. Did this novel actually need a narrator?

Zorro was ultimately a disappointment. Perhaps it's the narrative voice; perhaps it's the lack of dialogue; perhaps it's a lack of immediacy due the narrator learning of the events from others. It hangs between being a historical novel with social concerns, a third-hand narrative, a meditation on identity, and a swashbuckling adventure story -- and doesn't quite succeed as any of these.

No comments:

Post a Comment