Marta Brunet: María Nadie [Maria Nobody]
The title character does not appear till well into this relatively short book. Much of the action takes place in the (fictitious) small town of Colloco. The town is growing, primarily because of the timber and associated saw works there, and people are being encouraged to move there. Before we meet Maria, Brunet introduces us to three families who do move there. Ernestina and Reinaldo have moved so Reinaldo can work in the saw mill. They have seven children but the most important in this book is the youngest, Cacho. (His name comes from the expression Cachito del cielo, which means a little piece of heaven, the name his mother used for him when he was a baby.) Petronila was always known as Petaca (it means something like a short, dumpy person) had worked as a cook for a family (and partook of her own cooking, hence had put on weight). She wanted to work for herself. Lindor, called by most people Don Lindor, had worked for a confectioner’s. The two had met and married. The boss in Colloco appreciated what Petaca did and persuaded the couple to move to Colloco where she set up a small bakery/café. The couple also had a son, nicknamed Conejo (rabbit). Petaca works flat out at the bakery, while Lindor goes off gambling and drinking with his friends. Conejo is left seated in the store, daydreaming. Indeed, he seems to be what we would now call autistic. He also limps. It is Ernestina, who takes pity on Petaca, who offers to have Conejo play with Cacho.
The third family consists of two sisters. Misía Melecia is a widow. She is in charge of the post office. Her sister, Liduvina, had never been married. She is charge of the telegraph system. They live together in a small house provided by the company and Misía Melecia is the town gossip, helped by the fact that she sees all the mail. However, when a new phone system is introduced to the town, they have to share the house with the new switchboard operator, María López. It is Reinaldo that meets her at the station and he immediately falls in love with her. Melecia and Liduvina, however, are not happy with the situation, not least because they have to share their house. Two others fall in love with her. Cacho and Conejo plays up in the hills and have found a secret mountain pass. One day they meet a girl with golden hair and she becomes their friend. Of course, we realise that it is María López but they have no idea who she is. The two young boys, however, are very much taken with her. However, when they give her a bunch of violets, only found in the hills, and Cacho sees his father wearing them the next day, the two boys fall out.
Cacho eventually tracks her down in the town but things come to something of a head when a travelling theatre group puts on a performance. Everyone in the town goes, including all of our main characters. However, when María López appears and speaks to Conejo, Petaca gets very annoyed and screams at her, wanting to know how she knows Conejo. At this point, someone screams that there is a fire and everyone makes to leave. María López, in particular, rushes off, the screams of Petaca and Melecia’s cries of María Nadie (Maria Nobody) ringing in her ears. It is a false alarm and everyone returns, except for María López and Liduvina. It is only at this point that Brunet gives us something of María López’s history.
We learn of her history as she tells her story to Melecia and Liduvina but also to her cat. She is a solitary person and has chosen to remain that way. Part of the problem stems from her childhood. Her father was a weak man, perpetually dominated by his wife, who was always pushing him to better himself. This resulted in the family constantly moving house. Though she had siblings, María did not get on well with them. She found a job and set up home on her own, enjoying her solitude. However, she is one day invited to her boss’ wedding and there meets Gabriel, a big man who seems to be more interested in a regular but casual relationship with the woman he calls his Nordic princess. She falls head over heels in love with him and, when she gets pregnant, things go wrong. She is now in Colloco, alone as she wants to be, with just her cat. Brunet tells an interesting if low-key story of a woman who simply wants to be alone, cut off from the world. Her attempts at interaction with others, with the possible exception for the two boys, have all gone wrong, whether with Gabriel or with the people of Colloco and now solitude is the only answer.
First published in Spanish 1957 by Zig-Zag
No English translation