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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