Monday, August 15, 2005

Zorro by Isabel Allende reviewed.

I give up.
I surrender.
I cannot finish Zorro.

This pains me deeply. I hate giving up on a book. In some way I feel responsible. Maybe if I taken notes, paid more attention, lingered over a lovely phrase, it all would have come together for me. After all, I generally enjoy either an easy read or a more difficult journey. But I never clicked with this Zorro at all.

OK, let's just get this part out in the open. Zorro, at heart, is a silly character. Yeah, he wears a mask. (Ooo! What a handsome devil you must be!) Yeah, he's got the Big Black Wild Stallion. (Is that a carrot in your pants, or are you just glad to see me?) Yeah, he has a sword. (Is that an epee in your pants, or....?) And sometimes he even has a bullwhip. (And here I should insert a snarky comment, but I cannot for I am in awe of the writing team for Zorro, the Gay Blade.)

One Bit, Two Bits, Three Bits, A Peso.
All those for Zorro, Stand Up and Say So!!

Sorry. Sorry. Had a bit of a wild diversion into memories of Bunny Wigglesworth with his gold lame bullwhip. I'm back now.

But in a rambling way, that's almost my point. For an outrageous character to work, he has to have charisma at all times, a twinkle in the eye, a clever turn of phrase that makes you pay attention, no matter what he's doing. Straight up, as portrayed by Douglas Fairbanks, he's a "Swash, Swash, Buckle, Buckle" hero. (Thank you, Orlando) In black, he's dashing, bold, victorious, athletic, and brave. In embroidered bolero jackets he's clever, handsome, articulate, and cutting. The ladies may not desire him as he waves his handkerchief while professing his desire to stay at home while others fight for justice, but they keep asking him to ride into the fray. Intriguing, isn't he?

Even as Bunny Wigglesworth, wearing pom-poms for goodness sake, Zorro works. Bunny is extreme, but he's so fun to watch, and you just know he's about to say something totally outrageous whenever there's another person sharing the screen. Zorro's alter ego, the mincing fool (Hello Percy?? Anybody seen Percy about??), needs to be just as delicious as our masked hero, or the tension dies. Everytime Diego is in a room with the Spanish military, you know he's going to verbally skewer them. Yes! Yes! And they will think that maybe this is Zorro? No-o-o-o-o-o. Not this guy. Pshaw. And the tension builds until Zorro can mount Toronado and thunder to the rescue. Whew! How fun was that?!?

But this is where Allende lost it for me. Absolutely no dialog. No tension. No buildup.

In the original stories, Don Alejandro always expresses some measure of disappointment in his son. It is often hinted that Diego was a strong strapping lad when he left California, yet upon his return from Europe he is surprisingly effete. Yet in Allende's Zorro Alejandro and his son barely even speak to each other. How do you set up crushed expectations if the characters never communicate?

And then there's the added problem that Diego's mother is depressed and SILENT for his childhood too. (Of course Bernardo, the soon to be mute, isn't offering up much dialog either.) With a "stoic" grandmother, a telepathic childhood friend, and two silent parents, where is Diego learning all the double entendres and subtle barbs which will serve him so well as a hero? Oh. Right. In Europe.

I'm sorry. I don't buy it. He has about three conversations in Europe, two with his fencing master, and then he's off rescuing damsels. Huh?

How does he learn to flirt? How does he learn to tempt the villain into following him down the winding road into the awaiting trap so skillfully laid by Bernardo? Did he read it in a book? (He learns to fence from a book. Maybe he did.)

Before I end this tremendously long post, I should add that Isabel Allende has a wonderful gift for prose poetry. There are some delicate descriptions which make your heart turn over. But, unfortunately, these are scattered through long narrative paragraphs detailing events over the course of months. And the narrator has a truly annoying habit of reminding you from time to time that she's there, telling you the story, and it's her story, or rather, her story of Zorro, and there are some details which she cannot know because Zorro did not wish to tell her. OK already. I get it. Nonomniscient third person narrative, check.

I really wished I liked it. But I didn't. On the other hand, it did cause me to order Zorro, the Gay Blade, so I guess maybe the book was OK. I guess.


CindyS said...

Oh no! Don't you hate when you hit the spot where you realize that reading any further is a complete waste of you time! The cover of the book was so beautiful too.

I only know Zorro because my father enjoyed him from the *way* older movies and the flashy Z he would etch on everything.

As for Nonomniscient third person - you may have to draw me a chart on how this works ;)

What are you going to try to read next? Or, like me, do you dread picking up something else in case it fails also. I'm on the opposite end right now. Finished a good book and not ready (or able) to pick out the next.


Suisan said...

I think I'm not reading anything else for a teeny bit. Kind of got burned.

I've got some books on order from, so I guess I'll be reading The Deception by Joan Wolf and Black Silk by Judith Ivory.

I've got two friends who are campaigning for local elected seats, so I think this autumn I'm not going to be reading much. Bleh.