Tag Archives: The Shrouded Woman

My Favourite Books of 2019

9 Jan

I looked back at the books I had read in 2019 and I found a dozen titles which I felt like sharing with you all, in hope that perhaps one day you might read some of these books too. I wasn’t too pleased with what I’ve read in the previous year, there weren’t that many books which I adored. I am eager to read more, but I am struggling to find something to occupy me completely. So, if you have some suggestions, please, do not hesitate to tell them! A book must transform me completely, leave me breathless as I close it… if I feel the same after 200 pages then what’s the point really?

Casey Child, The Bookstore

1 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey; a wonderful novel about a wild, free-spirited individualist Randal McMurphy who tries to exploit the system but eventually gets trapped by it. The book starts out in a very amusing, witty way but things start taking a darker turn and the protagonist’s eventual defeat was immensely saddening to read.

2 The Shrouded Woman (La Amortajada) by María Luisa Bombal; is a wonderful short novel or a novella by a Chilean author published in 1938 and it tells a story of a dead woman remembering her life, from her youth, her first loves, the cheerful vibrant days of her childhood, her marriage and her children, her regrets. Reading it felt very poignant and very eerie; she’s not on her deathbed, she is dead. Only through the eyes of a woman dead who talks about her life in the past tense, did I truly feel the joy of my life lived now. I still have time to love! I still have time to not have regrets, to turn wrongs to rights, and in this way it was inspiring and felt like a catharsis.

3 The Final Mist by María Luisa Bombal; I loved “The Shrouded Woman” so much that I just had to read another short-novel by Bombal and it did not fail my expectations. “The Final Mist” begins with newlyweds, Daniel and Regina, arriving into a decaying mansion. It’s raining, and they are not very in love. The main character’s first wife had not been in the grave so long and he had already remarried. Regina is bored and dissatisfied, one day on a walk she wanders into a fog… finds a house… and has a life-transforming encounter with a strong, handsome man, but is he real or not?

4 The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson; with this book it was the film starring Johnny Depp which captivated me immensely. It’s set in Puerto Rico in the late 1950s, the main character is a journalist who comes to the Caribbean from New York. And the best part of all is that all the events were taken from Thompson’s life and experiences. Writing and the protagonist’s lifestyle reminded me of Kerouac’s and I also enjoyed the vibrant descriptions of the Caribbean; the ocean, the palms, the drinking and the politics.

5 Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami; yet another fabolous novel by Murakami, about a twenty-two year old girl called Sumire who falls in love for the first time in her short life and she wants to become a writer, she loves Kerouac and tends to start writing a novel but never finishes it. Sumire was relatable, though her love life was certainly not. And also, as much as I adored the beginning, it’s very easy to enjoy Murakami’s writing, I was slightly disappointed with the ending because it seemed less mysterious, as I think the writer intended it to be, it felt like not even Murakami knew just quite how to finish the novel.

6 Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui; this was a book which I repeatedly kept seeing on the bookshelf and the cover intrigued me a lot, and also the fact it was written by a Chinese person. I do enjoy reading books from other countries and continents and thus expanding my horizons. Similar to “Sputnik Sweetheart”, the main character is also a struggling aspiring writer who lives with her boyfriend; a gentle person and a talented artist who is also impotent and an opium addict. China’s opening to the Western culture and the clash of the changes goes hand in hand with the heroine’s personal changes and growth.

7 Marble Skin by Slavenka Drakulić; a novel written in the first person by a now grown up woman who is a sculptor and alarmed by her mother’s attempt of suicide, she returns to her hometown and a tale of her childhood, filled with mother’s coldness and a step-father’s sexual abuse, unravels before the reader. Her love of marble, who coldness she connects with her mother’s character, is woven through the novel.

8 I’m with the band by Pamela des Barres; I’ve known about this book written by a very famous sixties and seventies groupie for a few years now, but it was only last summer that I was so curious and felt like reading it. It was fun seeing the other side of the seemingly glamorous groupie lifestyle; the heartbreaks, the betrayals, the loneliness, and I do feel very differently about it than I had years ago. I am glad I read the book but I do not envy Miss Pamela’s position anymore.

9 Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole; a very dramatic and romantical Gothic novel. I very much enjoyed the drama and the pompous language as well as the black and white characters. And most of all I loved the love-scenes, so subtle yet so over the top in that special Romantic way.

10 Pre-Raphaelites in Love by Gay Dely; this was a book that someone very special recommended to me a few years ago and I finally got my hands on it in 2019. It was just beautiful! Just so beautifully written, loaded with information about the Pre-Raphaelites, comments on their work and most of all, as the title suggests, on their love-life.

11 I Patridge, We Need to Talk About Alan by Steve Coogan; this wasn’t a serious read, naturally, and it wasn’t really a read because it was an audio-book which is available on Youtube, but this was just too funny and too memorable not to include it, specially since I am a fan of Alan Partridge and his sense of humour.

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…”