The House of Mist, by María Luisa Bombal

I am a little worried now, having read the preface to María Luisa Bombal’s House of Mist, whether it actually qualifies for Spanish Literature Month. Bombal wrote and published in 1937 in Spanish a short novel called La última niebla; then in 1947, she translated this novel into English and published it as House of Mist, except in the process of translation she seems to have added what I take to be many of the more important elements of the work, particularly its “allusions to folk-tales and the fairy-tale atmosphere”, and changed the ending.

There’s a quote too in the preface from Carlos Fuentes, suggesting Bombal is the mother of all magic realism; something I feel is only partly the case: there were after all other strange Latin American books written before this; and Bombal’s use of dreams, imagination and other magic elements has a very clear purpose inextricable from the story it is telling.

What is that story: well, a girl falls in the love with the boy next-door.

Ok, there’s a few more narrative twists than that, but I feel I’d be giving away too much if I mentioned any of them; so will try to explain the book basically without recounting any of the plot.

It’s really about a girl, Helga, who is brought up on fairy-tales, and then later family myths, to such an extent that she confuses them with reality; which is perhaps not so surprising since she lives in the privileged world of the rich in South America, which doesn’t seem so far away from a fairy-tale with its palaces and balls. Aside from fairy-tales, the book also has a strong Gothic / romantic strain to it; in fact, it seems more akin to, say, The Castle of Otranto or Sheridan LeFanu than later magic realism. By which I mean, it’s quite mad.

Anyway, it’s by far the best thing I read during Spanish Literature Month – and that includes anything yet to come.

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4 thoughts on “The House of Mist, by María Luisa Bombal

  1. I read this a couple of weeks ago (also worried about its qualifications for Spanish Literature Month given that it was written in English with the assistance of Bombal’s banker husband). Its reputation precedes it, and I was curious to learn what the fuss was about. Initially, I was put off by the simple, almost banal prose – and, having just read some Italian magical realism – was somewhat disappointed. But eventually I was won over by both the atmosphere and the indignation within the narrator’s madness. Your call comparing it to gothic fiction seems spot on; it even reminded me (loosely) of Jane Eyre.

  2. I noticed it on your books read list the other day, along with another book (the Aretino) which I have in mind to read soon. Agreed that parts of it are better than others; I lost interest for a time somewhere in the middle – I think during the transition from one strange event to another.

    Now you mention it, there are many similarities with Jane Eyre, which I’m also at the moment reading.

    I’m not the only one who picked up on its Gothic nature. I notice Nicole from Bibliographing said as much too, in a review from many years ago. Which reminds me, I was going to change Sheridan LeFanu to ETA Hoffmann (if only because my memory of LeFanu is a bit dim).

  3. Thanks for mentioning the Bibliographing review – I’ll look it up.

    The Aretino was far better – more humorous and less salacious – than I expected. It has some marvelous passages, including the most entertaining dissection of Italian regional differences I’ve yet encountered.

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