Tag Archives: Maria Luisa Bombal

Book Review: The Final Mist by María Luisa Bombal

13 Aug

I already wrote a book review about the wonderful novel “The Shrouded Woman” by María Luisa Bombal, and now I feel that I must also mention her other novel “The Final Mist” (La última niebla) first published in 1934 when Bombal was only twenty-four years old.

Just like Bombal’s already mentioned novel “The Shrouded Woman”, the story is told in the first person by a young woman called Regina who had just gotten married to Daniel. The newlyweds are arriving to Daniel’s country house. From the beginning the atmosphere is mysterious and eerie, maybe slightly sinister too because his first deceased wife is mentioned:

“The previous night’s storm had removed the shingles from the roof of the old country house. When we arrived the rain was dripping into all of the rooms. (…)
As a matter of fact, ever since the car had crossed the boundary of the farm Daniel had become nervous, and almost hostile. It was to be expected. Hardly a year ago, he had made the same journey with his first wife; that sullen, weak girl he adored, who would die unexpectedly hardly three months later. But now there is something like apprehension in the way he examines me from head to foot. It is the same hostile expression with which he always looks at any stranger.
“What are you doing?” I ask him.
“I am looking at you,” he answers. “I am looking at you, because I know you too well…”

The narrator is clear that their marriage isn’t one of love and adoration but one of practicality; she was afraid of becoming an old spinster and she wanted a better life. They start living together in that unkempt sad country house, but they mostly spend time apart and rarely make love. The shadow of his first wife’s death is hanging over them and the enveloping fog is sucking their souls and energy. The motif of the first wife and the film noir atmosphere kind of reminded me of Daphne du Maurier’s novel and film “Rebecca”. The strange atmosphere is kind of similar. Also, just like Flaubert’s provincial heroine Emma Bovary, the narrator is bored, disillusioned and unloved, yet still romantic and prone to dreaming. In dreary autumnal weather she is silently and slowly sinking in the countryside boredom. She is constantly making remarks about her youth, beauty and joy fading forever. But, one night she goes for a walk and meets a stranger who takes her by the hand and leads her into a grand old house where they make love passionately. This adventure makes her feel alive and its memory helps her to endure all the other disillusionment of life.

The central point of the novel is the struggle between dreams and reality; the narrator, just like Anais Nin in her diaries, tries to escape her trivial loveless existence through dreams, fantasies, make beliefs and her cold and distant husband is the first one to shove truth into her face. Did she really get lost in the mist that night and met that man, or was it all just another dream that she uses as a defense against reality’s blows that she cannot bear. The element of fog isn’t here simply to indicate the state of weather, as if perhaps might be in some English novel where people are keen to discuss the weather, no here it sort of stands as a symbol for the portal to the world of dreams. The heroine escapes into fog and the reality ceases to exist. There is also an erotic element that lingers throughout the novel which is also present in “The Shrouded Woman” but here the sensuality is even more emphasised, and it sadly belongs to the world of dreams and not reality for the narrator. Bombal’s writing is full of beautiful imagery, sights, sounds, emotions, acute perceptions and it’s very feminine in a way that Regina’s longing and desperation and boredom are very feminine, I think only a woman can experience them in that particular way… Here are some beautiful quotes:

Every day the fog gets thicker and thicker around the house. It has now covered the trees whose branches brush against the edge of the terrace. Last night I dreamed that, through the cracks of the doors and windows, the fog was slowly leaking into my room, diminishing the color of the walls and the furniture, filtering into my hair, and sticking to my body, as it dissipates everything, absolutely everything…

The years pass by. I look at myself in the mirror, and I see myself with clearly noticeable little wrinkles that only showed when I laugh before. My breasts are losing their roundness and the consistency of a ripe fruit. My flesh is stuck to my bones, and I no longer look slim, but angular. But, what does it matter? What does it matter that my body withers, if it has known love? What does it matter that the years go by, all the same? I had a beautiful adventure, once… With just one memory one can tolerate a long life of tedium. One can even repeat day by day, without boredom, the same small, everyday tasks.

There is a person who I could not meet without trembling. I might find him today, or tomorrow, or ten years from now. I might find him at the end of the street, or in the city when I go around the corner. Perhaps I will never find him. It doesn’t matter; the world seems full of possibilities, and for me in every moment there is hope, so that each minute has its emotion.

There are mornings when I am overrun by an absurd contentment. I have the feeling that a great happiness is going to come to me within the space of the next twenty four hours. I spend the day feeling a kind of exaltation. And I wait. For a letter, or an unexpected meeting? In truth, I don’t know.

My body and my kisses never make him tremble but, like they used to do, they made him think about another body, and other lips. Like years ago, I saw him trying again furiously to caress and desire my body, and always with the memory of his dead wife between the two of us. As he surrendered himself to my breast, his face unconsciously tried to find the smoothness and the contour of another breast. He kissed my hands, and other places, searching for some familiar passions, odors, and shapes. And he wept bitterly, calling for her, shouting absurd things to me, that were directed at her.

Daniel takes me by the arm and starts walking as if nothing had happened. (…) I follow him in order to carry out an enormous number of little jobs; to perform an enormous number of frivolous tasks; to cry as usual, and to smile out of obligation. I follow him to live correctly, and to die correctly, someday. Around us the fog gives things the quality of endless immobility.

And now I will just take a moment to tackle the issue of the title. Bombal’s novel originally called “La última niebla” was published in 1934 and it is translated in English as either “The Final Moment of Fog” or “The Final Mist”. But in 1947 Bombal wrote and published a longer and much altered version of this earlier work and named it “The House of Mist”.

Book Review: The Shrouded Woman by María Luisa Bombal

7 Aug

In July I read a wonderful short novel “The Shrouded Woman” (La amortajada) by a Chilean author María Luisa Bombal (1910-1980) which was originally published in 1938. It was suggested to me by someone, and I am infinitely glad that I finally sat down and read it because it was a stunning book and I can now recommend it to you all! It’s short and easy to read, direct and full of feelings, but it’s truly something else, both in the matter of topic and the writing style.

Claude Monet, Camille Monet on her deathbed, 1879

“And after it had gotten dark, her eyes opened. But just a little, very little. It was as if she wanted to look, while she was hidden behind her long eyelashes. At the flame of the tall candles that leaned over to keep watch on her, and to observe the cleanness and transparency of the border of the eye that death had not been able to cast a pall over. Respectfully dazzled, they leaned over, not knowing that She was able to see them. Because, in fact, She could both see and feel.

And that is how she looked, motionless, lying face up on the spacious bed now covered with embroidered sheets that were scented with lavender—that were always kept under lock and key—and she is wrapped in that white satin robe that always made her look so graceful.”

The story is told in the first person and the narrator is a beautiful dead woman Ana María. Despite being dead, she can still feel, think and see, and she begins by describing where she is lying and who are the people who are coming to see her for the last time. Little by little, she starts reminiscing about her life; her first love with a local boy Ricardo who both intimidated her and aroused passion in her, then her best friend Fernando who secretly adored her, and lastly she is contemplating about her disastrous marriage with Antonio. The mood of the novel feels very intimate, personal and it is very emotional as well. I think Bombal was very good at capturing the state of mind and thoughts that a deceased person might have, it just feels so accurate and convincing. Now that her life is over and nothing can be done or undone, the chances are over and desires that remain cannot be fulfilled, it’s fascinating to see where Ana María’s thoughts turn to; to love, both the possibility of joy and the agonies of love, things that could have been done differently but is now too late. She regrets being cold to her husband because her coldness distinguished his initial love for her. She regrets being left by Ricardo whom she loved with all her youthful ardour and madness.

Death can teach us so much about life. It’s interesting to note how most of us spend our day to day life thinking about trivial things, little nuisances and unimportant problems, what’s the weather like, how’s the traffic, and yet none of that truly matters. Time is wasted on trivialities. Ana María on her death bed is not thinking about the windows that she wished to clean, but, alas, death has stopped her in that! Looking at her life in retrospective she only pays attention to the most important things so why not focus on what really matters while we are still alive. Why not try and live and love since we are already alive and have no choice but to walk the earth for a little while, till eternity swallows us again. In this way, I think the novel is very inspiring. But it is also chilling in other ways and sad because the life she is telling us about is – over. But while I, as a living person, am saddened by this, Ana María is ecstatic to finally be at peace. She is not filled with sadness or anger, she is resigned to her fate and she simply contemplates things, without clinging to them. All the longings that tormented her while she was alive have now disappeared, no tears and no hatred left. She seems purified by the experience of death and is almost happy as her coffin descends into earth. And in the end, she is waiting for a real death: “She had already suffered the death of the living. Now she wanted total immersion, the second death: the death of those who are dead.”

Picture by Laura Makabresku.

I particularly enjoyed Ana María vivid memories of her childhood, her first love and her teenage days because obviously I can relate to that. And now the quotes:

Since then, I lived waiting for the arrival of my tears. I waited for them like one waits for a storm on the hottest days of summer. And harsh word, a look that was too sweet, was enough for me to open the floodgate of tears.”

Now that it was spring, I hung my hammock between two hazel nut trees. I laid there for hours and hours. I did not know why the landscape, the things around me, all gave me so much pleasure, the enjoyment of feeling peaceful with the rising and falling dark mass of the forest quietly rising above the horizon like a monstrous wave about to rush forward, the flight of the doves whose coming and going made moving shadows on the book over my knees; the intermittent song of the sawmill—that sharp note, sharp and sweet like the buzzing of a beehive—that filled the air all the way to the houses while the afternoon was very translucent.

I was overwhelmed by the wild carnation odor of your kiss.

One impulse swallowed another. Soon I was longing to knit yellow wool and yearning for a field of sunflowers that I could enjoy looking at hour after hour.
Oh, to be able to sink my eyes into something yellow!
That is the way I was living, greedy for fragrances, for colors, for flavors.

That wind! The plaits of my hair were torn apart and began to curl around your neck. We had suddenly been swallowed up by the darkness and the silence, the eternal darkness and silence of the forest.

And she suddenly feels that she is now without even a single wrinkle, more pale, and beautiful than ever.

The sound of rain on the trees and the house soon causes her very to surrender herself, body and soul, to that feeling of well-being and melancholy into which the sound of rain always filled her on those long autumn nights.

Everyone was upset by the indifference with which I took my first communion. … To me God seemed so distant, and so severe.

Ana María’s vision of heaven when she was a child which horrified the priest:

“I would like it to be the same as earth is. I would like it to be like the farm in the spring, when all the rose bushes are flowering, and all the fields are green, and you can hear the cooing of doves during the afternoon… And I would especially like something there wasn’t on the farm: …I would like it if there were little deer that were not afraid and would come to eat out of my hand… And I would also like it if my cousin Ricardo was always with me, and they would give us permission to spend the night in the woods, there where the grass is as soft as velvet, right on the edge of the stream…”