Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although it was chosen as a finalist for the 1995 National Book Award, The House on the Lagoon, Ferré’s first novel in English, sparked controversy among critics for its depiction of Puerto Rican society. Some viewed it as derivative in style and clichéd in characterization and theme; others praised it for its complex structure and mocking spirit.

Although there are some thematic similarities to Ferré’s earlier works—the theme of personal, social, and political identity—the style of The House on the Lagoon is profoundly different from her previous work. Instead of her typically baroque prose, in The House on the Lagoon, Ferré uses language that has been described as accessible and concise. Her prose is simple, and she uses a structure that is relatively straightforward. However, Ferré also fills her narrative with prophecy, sorcery, and black magic, drawing comparisons with Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende.

Ferré received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Manhattanville College, a master’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico, and a doctorate in Latin American literature from the University of Maryland. Her career developed mainly in the Spanish-speaking world until the 1990’s. In the tradition of Latin American writers such as Maria Luisa Bombal and Manuel Puig, Ferré has not only translated some of her own work into English—a novel, Maldito amor (1986; Sweet Diamond Dust, 1988) and a collection of short stories, Papules de Pandora (1976; The Youngest Doll, 1991)—but also written in English. Reflecting Puerto Rico’s identity crisis, Ferré’s writing is informed by the author’s dual identity and perspective. The novel is important as an entertaining introduction to Puerto Rican history and culture.