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House of Mist by María Luisa Bombal
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House of Mist (1948)

by María Luisa Bombal

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An early example of what would be called "magical realism", The House of Mist is set in the early part of the 20th century in Argentina and takes, I think, from both the Gothic and fairy tale tradition. Our awkwardly-named heroine, Helga, begins her story when she is a child, orphaned and being brought up by her aunt and uncle; and, of course, she has a beautiful cousin to be measured against. She knows little of her parents, a mystery that will be revealed over the course of the novel. Helga is a reader and her head is filled with fairy and folk tales when she meets the young Daniel next door, she is looking for a frog prince. She will eventually marry the mercurial Daniel and go to live in his big, isolated, deteriorating (creepy) hacienda in the woods. But Daniel is NO prince and she is not his first wife. And that is not the end of the story.

While the premise has the sound of a fairy tale to it, and its narrative often has a feel of fairy tale, the story is more complex, full of secrets and mystery (and death), and woven into it are visions and illusions that may or may not be reality.

When I began the book, I thought it might be too light for my tastes, but I soon found myself thoroughly captivated by the story. I think, Bombal uses magical realism as tool to change Helga; for as she sorts out illusion and reality, she really comes into her own (perhaps stopping short of being a feminist novel). ( )
  avaland | Jan 10, 2012 |
In this elegant classic, recently reissued in the States, Helga, the narrator, is a plain-looking orphan given to flights of wild imagination and a passionate love of life. At seven, while out in the abandoned bramble-filled garden searching for Prince Toad with the small golden crown, she happens upon the enchanted bear in her fairytales. He is as irritable and grouchy as any bear and though he remains abrupt, the 12-year-old Daniel nevertheless condescends to help her look for her Toad. And so he becomes her intermittent, capricious friend.

Years later, after some particularly interesting twists in the tale, Helga marries Daniel, now a rich landowner; but she is his second wife. She is completely devoted to him, as she has been most of her life. He, however, is still passionately in love with his deceased first wife, an unreservedly beautiful woman whose beauty and mysterious death remain the subject of many conversations in society.

Daniel has married Helga merely to save her from a life of servitude to others. As she is brought to her new hacienda set deep in the Chilean woods, they are enveloped by a dense, all-encompassing mist that seems to swallow up the surrounds including the lagoon where Teresa, Daniel's first wife, drowned. There are many moments of sadness, as well as joy, for the new bride who becomes absorbed by nagging questions about Teresa's death. This part of the book was deliciously reminiscent of Rebecca, which was, incidentally, published in 1938, three years after the publication of House of Mist.

Bombal's prose is crisp, and this impressive novel draws you into a fairytale experience replete with palaces in the middle of forests, old-fashioned but luxurious horse-drawn carriages, huge dancing halls, and women resplendent in ball gowns. There is even a witch!

One night, they are invited to a ball, but Daniel refuses to attend. He is happy to let Helga go, and she does so with great exuberance. The next morning, after champagne followed by a night of passion with a romantic and attentive lover, she is wracked with guilt. But she also feels so much more hopeful, alive, and happy. This sets off a whole train of events...

When Bombal first wrote House of Mist (La Última Niebla) in Spanish, in 1935, it was hailed with critical acclaim. Bombal had broken with tradition. For the first time in Latin American novels, heroines portrayed an inner psychological world. Helga's thoughts are fuelled by a fondness for fairytales. At 18, she still dreams of fairies and castles, and has trouble distinguishing between her dreams and reality. This engaging novel abounds with an air of drama and mystery that never lets up, and keeps one guessing right till the end!

This review was first published in Issue 5 of Belletrista: http://www.belletrista.com/2010/issue5/anth_3.php ( )
  akeela | May 5, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374531366, Paperback)

House of Mist stands as one of the first South American novels written in the style that was later called magical realism. Of this story of a young bride struggling with her marriage to an aloof landowner—and the mysteries surrounding their life together—in a house deep in the lush Chilean woods, Penelope Mesic wrote in the Chicago Tribune that Bombal showed “bold disregard for simple realism in favor of a heightened reality in which the external world reflects the internal truth of the characters’ feeling . . . mingling . . . fantasy, memory and event.”

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:40:35 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

'House of Mist' stands as one of the first South American novels written in the style that was later called magic realism. It is the story of a young bride struggling with her marriage to an aloof landowner and the mysteries surrounding their life together in a house deep in the lush Chilean woods.… (more)

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