came to us by sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate
calligraphy. She was already in the habit of writing down important
matters, and afterward, when she was mute, she also recorded trivialities,
never suspecting that fifty years later I would use her notebooks
to reclaim the past and overcome terrors of my own.
These are the first words of the novel.
They are repeated, almost exactly but in reverse order, as the last
words of the novel. The "I" in this quote is Alba, speaking about
her grandmother. Although Alba is one of the principal narrators
of the story, she almost always uses the third person. This sentence
and the epilogue are the only two places she expresses herself in
the first person. Clara is Alba's grandmother.
Writing is thematized in The House of the Spirits. This
is a metatextual gesture: by having her characters openly discuss
writing, Isabel Allende refers to her own process of creating The
House of the Spirits. We do not learn until the epilogue
that the "I" from these opening lines is Alba. It is easy to assume
that the "I" here refers to Isabel Allende herself, since it talks
about the process of writing the text we are reading. While Alba
is in many ways based on Isabel Allende, it is important to distinguish
the two. Allende purposefully created Alba as a character who is
both the subject of the novel and one of its narrators.