Tales of lonely women who prefer dreams to people; New Islands, by Maria Luisa Bombal. With a preface by Jorge Luis Borges. Translated by Richard and Lucia Cunningham. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 112 pp. $12.95.
This interesting volume presents a celebrated novella and four stories by the Chilean writer who has been called ''the most important Latin woman novelist of this century.'' She's an analyst of inheld emotion, a prose lyricist whose tales are sometimes haunting and sometimes annoyingly thin - and who may remind readers of writers as various as Colette, Isak Dinesen, Anais Nin, or Jorge Luis Borges, all of whom she probably influenced.
Most of the stories collected here date from the mid-1930s. The settings and atmospheres repeat a few essential elements: isolated country houses, strange creatures prowling outside, mysterious sounds carried on the night air. Their characters are lonely women who resist the pull of the quotidian, reject the pleas for intimacy of their families and lovers, and lose themselves in overpowering dreams and fantasies in which they ''become'' passionate and violent larger-than-life figures.
In ''The Final Mist,'' which is typical of this collection as a whole, a sexually disappointed woman compensates for her husband's neglect of her by inventing an imaginary lover - who entirely possesses her imagination and alters her whole life. At her best, Bombal makes us experience her characters' transformations as if they were our own; at her weakest, I'm afraid she reminds me only too much of Anais Nin.