Christine Strelan - Between the Covers


Isabel Allende

Harper Perennial 2006

We have to help those poor people, Captain! Diego exclaimed, horrified. Indeed, he does. Diego de la Vega, alias Zorro, wanders the world doing good deeds, combatting mean guys and spouting about social justice while wearing fancy dress. The action (and theres plenty) ranges from California to Barcelona, with a stint in New Orleans for the inevitable voodoo ritual. There are noble Indian shamans, secret societies, moustache-twirling villains, Spanish gypsies and actual pirates IN THE CARIBBEAN. Their leader is a dashing, dark-haired dandy who will surely be played by Johnny Depp when Hollywood gets its hands on this.

Despite the storys rapid pace, theres very little narrative tension because Zorro always succeeds. The plot elements are utterly predictable, especially to anyone who grew up on swashbuckling movies: Diego fought off half a dozen attackers, terrifying bald devils marred by horrible scars, with daggers even in their boots, two or three pistols at their waist, and short cutlasses. Its like The Cisco Kid meets Carmen on the set of The Three Amigos, only without the arias or the laughs.

The language is banal, especially in its cliched descriptions, though this could be the fault of lazy translation from Spanish. The only part that really held my attention was the brief appearance of swampy voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Zorro himself has about as much depth as a tortilla, and its hard to take any of it seriously, especially lines like, He looked so manly in his new sideburns, with his tanned skin and caramel eyes, that even Juliana admired him from afar. At least in the film Zorro: The Gay Blade, George Hamilton had the grace to acknowledge Zorro as an icon of comic book camp.

I love the idea of men in frilly shirts, brandishing rapiers and uttering witty epithets as much as the next person, but I dont think Allende intended this as a pastiche, and its too silly and simplistic for a serious novel. This is harmless entertainment, but Allendes earlier books, such as Eva Luna and Paula, show shes capable of more original writing. Zorros cover, however, is fabulous. Five stars for design.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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