Not everything Isabel Allende writes strikes a chord with me, however Maya’s Notebook is no less loved than the rest of the works I have written about here. It does, perhaps, go against the grain of Allende’s most famous book, House of Spirits, in that there is (apart from a few references) no sign of ‘magical realism’ in its pages. Rather it is a gritty story that reels the reader in. Maya’s circumstances and those of her wonderfully drawn grandparents are a trip into the seedy streets of Las Vegas: a Vegas we don’t often get to see. Balancing the chaos is the seductive and far slower but, in some respects, tougher life of her escape. The tiny island off the Chilean coast provides what all hectic lives need: simplicity.
Set between the two worlds of North and South America, the fast and the slow, the drug-soaked and the natural, the lessons in this book aren’t hidden; and what makes them stand out is not their importance but the compelling way they’re told. Allende’s ability to write is evident from the very beginning, and this is a book that knows exactly what it is, where its sights are set and how it will proceed to get there.