Puerto Rico’s preeminent literary figure tells the story of a battle between a well-to-do couple over a manuscript dealing with their family history and Puerto Rican politics, a battle with a terrible consummation.
In The House on the Lagoon, a wealthy Puerto Rican woman decides to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a novelist, much to her husband Quintin’s chagrin. Isabel Monfort writes what she knows–the history of her family and Quintin’s family, dating back to the turn of the 20th century. When Quentin discovers the work in progress, he is dismayed at her factual errors and unhappy that she reveals so many family secrets. Every couple of chapters, Quintin interrupts Isabel’s narrative to tell his version of events and worry aloud about his marriage. At first, he tries not to let his wife know he’s reading the novel, but soon he cannot resist writing comments in the margins. This “he said/she said” format allows Rosario Ferre to explore sexual divisions in Puerto Rican society and evaluate the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction. Ferre also examines Puerto Rico’s severe economic and racial divisions in evocative ways. She describes when Quintin’s sisters were children, and they grew weary of playing with one of the servant’s babies–the two girls decided it might be more fun if the baby were white, so they painted her. The lead paint made the infant deathly ill, and she had to be rushed to the hospital. “Another half an hour of being white, and Carmelina would have died.” Isabel remarks. At times this book is confusing because there are so many characters to keep track of, but the family tree at the beginning of the text makes it a bit easier to follow. Isabel is an engaging narrator who has plenty of racy and tragic stories to tell. The House on the Lagoon is a fascinating introduction to Puerto Rican history and culture. –Jill Marquis
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