Isabel Allende nostalgic for 'literary innocence'
The daughter of late Chilean President Salvador Allende, Isabel Allende, pictured during an interview with AFP in Santiago, on August 26, 2013 - by Martin Bernetti
Allende, who has just published her first police thriller, said she has come a long way since the best-selling 1982 work.
"Back then I was totally innocent about literature," the 71-year-old, whose books have sold 60 million copies and been translated into 35 languages, told AFP from San Francisco, where she lives.
The writer, whose 20 or so books have included novels, essays and memoirs, also remembers the time she spent exiled in Venezuela and had to get up at dawn to write for a few hours before going out to work.
"I wasn't scared of anything because I knew nothing about the world of editors, agents and contracts. I have lost that innocence," she said. "I have a lot of freedom to write, but (I miss) the liberty of not knowing, of the person who doesn't know what they're getting into."
Her latest book, "Ripper: a Novel," is a best-seller in Spain and Latin America since its release at the start of January. The English translation came out on Tuesday.
In it, Allende contrasts the mysticism of a faith healer, Indiana, with the pragmatism of her daughter Amanda, a teenager obsessed with finding a serial killer in San Francisco.
The action happens in 2012, "which means I didn't have to study" to be able to write about the setting, and so could concentrate on the crime story itself, helped by attending a conference for writers of police novels.
"The speakers were detectives, police officers, medical examiners, weapons experts, or a chemist who talked about poisons. A whole range of people who gave me information. That helped me a lot," she said.
But the need for accuracy and attention to realistic detail was difficult for a writer who does not usually plan what she writes.
"Writers of this type of novel have to have everything very well organized because you have to set out all the keys to what is going to happen," she said. "But I don't get along with plans. I've written 20 books in 30 years and I've never been able to make a plan."
It's a method that works, judging by her sales. "But it makes me work much more," she lamented. "I advance in circles, instead of following a clear and straight line."
While her latest book fits into the police novel genre, the variety of characters and the importance given to "new age" beliefs comes directly from the style of the "House of the Spirits" author.
Teasingly, the book's narrator notes that "magic realism" -- the literary form made famous by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- is "a literary style which has gone out of fashion."
Allende declares: "I am still accused of magic realism, but the truth is that it's no longer used.
"Do you have to call acupuncture or astrology magic realism? I don't think so because people use them here every day," she said by telephone from famously free-thinking San Francisco.
"It's very bizarre," she continued. "When you're talking about something which happens in the United States, it's not magic realism. But if the same thing happens in Latin America, it becomes magic realism.
"What Americans believe in is religion. And what we believe (in Latin America) is superstition."
The writer, in another tease, casts scorn on the erotic acrobatics of British author E.L. James' bestseller "Fifty Shades of Grey."
Allende, who has lived in the United States since 1993 -- she became a US citizen a decade ago -- said she wanted to make fun of the book "and what is fashionable."
"To tell you the truth, I couldn't finish it because it's a cheesy romantic novel with a bit of pornography," she said.