María Luisa Bombal: La amortajada (The Shrouded Woman)
Having a dead person tell the story is not an entirely original concept – there are two famous films, for example, that use this technique (Sunset Boulevard and American Beauty) – but it can be very effective as it is here. Ana María is dead but she can still think and feel, at least for the purpose of this book she can. Now tranquil in her death, with people admiring her beautiful corpse, she can contemplate her life. And, as they come and look at the corpse, she thinks of what they meant to her. First of all is Ricardo, the passionate love of her youth, who left her pregnant and whose mother made him marry someone else. Then there is her family – her sons who admired her youth but resented it as well, her daughter who thinks her mother was never young. Then comes Fernando with whom she had a destructive relationship during her marriage. Finally there is her husband, Antonio. Initially she was cold to him so he turned away from her. She tried to woo him back but ultimately failed and her love turned to hurt. But now she forgives him, knowing he will have a lonely old age.
Of course, this straightforward summary, while showing that Ana María was hardly a saint, can hardly do justice to the beauty of Bombal’s language and to her uncanny ability to show the comparison between the worldly, living Ana María and the ethereal, more tender dead Ana María. The dead Ana María and the living Ana María should be opposites or, at least, two sides of the same coin but it is Bombal’s skill to portray them as entirely complementary despite their inherent differences. The wonderful imagery, as in La Ultima niebla (House of Mist), is very much in evidence in this book – from the rain dripping through into the country house to the hot summer day when she is waiting for Ricardo to arrive and helps to enhance the sensuality of Ana María which is really what Bombal is writing about.
First published in Spanish 1938 by Sur
First published in English 1948 by Farrar, Straus