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The Bad Girlby Mario Vargas Llosa
Synopses & Reviews
Ricardo Somocurcio is in love with a bad girl. He loves her as a teenager known as "Lily" in Lima in 1950, when she arrives one summer out of the blue, claiming to be from Chile but vanishing the moment her claim is exposed as fiction. He loves her next in Paris, where she appears as the enchanting "Comrade Arlette," an activist en route to Cuba, and becomes his lover, albeit one who denies knowing anything about the Lily of years gone by. Whoever the bad girl turns up as — whether it's Madame Robert Arnoux, the wife of a high-ranking UNESCO fficial, or Kuriko, the mistress of a sinister Japanese businessman — and however poorly she treats him, Ricardo is doomed to worship her.
The protean Lily, gifted liar and irresistible, maddening muse — does Ricardo ever know who she really is? The answer is as unclear s what has become of Ricardo himself, a lifelong expatriate had owed by the sense that he is only ever drifting. In Mario Vargas Llosa's beguiling new novel, the strange bedfellows of good and bad turn out not to be what they appear.
"Veteran Peruvian novelist Vargas Llosa's appealing, nostalgic latest opens in the summer of 1950, as Ricardo 'Slim' Somocurcio, a rambunctious teen in the affluent Miraflores section of Lima, meets 14-year-old nymph Lily. With her younger sister, Lily is masquerading as a wealthy, liberated Chilean girl to disguise her slum origins. She is soon exposed by a jealous schoolmate and disappears, but Ricardo is smitten. There are dashes of Vertigo and Last Year at Marienbad in what follows. As an adult, Ricardo's work as a translator for UNESCO takes him over the decades everywhere from late '50s Paris to the Beatles's London to gangland Tokyo. Everywhere he goes, his bad girl shows up in dramatically different disguises, denying she was his childhood sweetheart or that they've ever met before, but ravishing him completely. None of the characters is particularly nuanced, but Vargas Llosa is a master of description, and his gift for evoking sounds, smells and tastes makes each (often very graphic) encounter with Lily fresh. And with Ricardo's knack for being where the action is, whole 'scenes' of the postwar period flare into view, as Lily's sexual perfidy eventually leads to serious trouble. The result is rich but not in the least deep." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Mario Vargas Llosa's perversely charming new novel isn't among his major books — it lacks the depth of 'Conversation in the Cathedral, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter' or even the more recent and less successful 'The Feast of the Goat' — but it is irresistibly entertaining and, like all of its author's work, formidably smart. Its story of romantic and sexual obsession is characteristic of Vargas... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Llosa, as are its two principal characters: the narrator, Ricardo 'Slim' Somocurcio, an amiable man whose ambitions extend no further than 'a nice steady job that would let me spend, in the most ordinary way, the rest of my days in Paris,' and the woman — we don't know her real name until a few pages from the end — whose 'indomitable and unpredictable ... personality' wholly captivates him. It is commonly assumed that Vargas Llosa's male protagonists are autobiographical, as often is obviously the case, but resemblances between him and Ricardo Somocurcio pretty much end with their mutual admiration of women and vexation over Peruvian culture. Ricardo's lack of drive, on the other hand, scarcely mirrors his creator's powerful ambition. American readers may not fully appreciate what a force Vargas Llosa is in his native Peru, where he spends about a quarter of each year. He enjoys a prominence — literary, social, cultural, political — that no American writer could dream of achieving. Not only is he by far Peru's best known writer, of fiction and nonfiction, he also writes a regular, highly influential column for El Comercio, the country's premier newspaper, he was a serious candidate for the presidency in 1990 (he was defeated by the now disgraced Alberto Fujimori), and he is a familiar, adored figure to millions of Peruvians. In the world at large he is known as one of the leading writers in the Latin American literary 'Boom,' his acclaim today probably exceeded only by that lavished upon Gabriel Garcia Marquez. That he has not been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature is nothing short of scandalous, especially in light of the many nonentities to whom the prize has gone in recent years, but this says more about the Swedish Academy than it does about the work of Vargas Llosa. Doubtless the prize went to Garcia Marquez on merit, but doubtless as well his cozy relationship with Fidel Castro helped his cause; Vargas Llosa by contrast is of a more conservative persuasion, and this the complacently ideological Swedes do not countenance, much less honor. 'The Bad Girl' will do nothing to improve his lot in Stockholm, but somehow it seems unlikely that this much worries Vargas Llosa. Obviously, the novel was written for the sheer fun of it — the fun for Vargas Llosa in writing it, the fun for us in reading it. It also obviously was written out of a deep nostalgia for the author's lost youth and for the Lima in which he then lived. He evokes it beautifully: 'In the early years of the 1950s there were still no tall buildings in Miraflores, a neighborhood of one-story houses — two at the most — and gardens with their inevitable geraniums, poincianas, laurels, bougainvilleas, and lawns and verandas along which honeysuckle or ivy climbed, with rocking chairs where neighbors waited for nightfall, gossiping or inhaling the scent of the jasmine. In some parks there were ceibo trees thorny with red and pink flowers, and the straight, clean sidewalks were lined with frangipani, jacaranda, and mulberry trees, a note of color along with the flowers in the gardens and the little D'Onofrio ice-cream trucks ... that drove up and down the streets day and night, announcing their presence with a Klaxon whose slow ululation had the effect on me of a primitive horn, a prehistoric reminiscence. You could still hear birds singing in that Miraflores, where families cut a pine branch when their girls reached marriageable age because if they didn't, the poor things would become old maids like my aunt Alberta.' Into this paradise, during the 'fabulous summer' of 1950, comes a 14- or 15-year-old girl who calls herself Lily and claims to be Chilean. Soon enough she is found out as an impostor and expelled from 15-year-old Ricardo's privileged set, but the damage has been done: He is madly in love with her, and her expulsion is 'the beginning of real life for me, the life that separates castles in the air, illusions, and fables from harsh reality.' She has rejected his declarations of love, but she scarcely vanishes from his life. By the early 1960s he is in Paris, studying (successfully) to become a translator at UNESCO, when she appears as Comrade Arlette, ostensibly to bring Castroite revolution to Peru. She goes off to Cuba, but soon resurfaces as Madame Robert Arnoux, wife of a French diplomat. Ricardo craves her as ardently as ever, even as she blithely dismisses him: 'What cheap, sentimental things you say to me, Ricardito.' She does permit him to make love to her but vanishes once more, reappearing as Mrs. Richardson, wife of a wealthy Englishman hooked on 'the aristocratic passion par excellence: horses.' By now Ricardo has figured out that she has come a long way: 'I tried to picture her childhood, being poor in the hell that Peru is for the poor, and her adolescence, perhaps even worse, the countless difficulties, defeats, sacrifices, concessions she must have suffered in Peru, in Cuba, in order to move ahead and reach the place she was now.' He understands that she is now 'a grown woman, convinced that life was a jungle where only the worst triumphed, and ready to do anything not to be conquered and to keep moving higher.' And yet: 'Everything I told her was true: I was still crazy about her. It was enough for me to see her to realize that, despite my knowing that any relationship with the bad girl was doomed to failure, the only thing I really wanted in life with the passion others bring to the pursuit of fortune, glory, success, power, was having her, with all her lies, entanglements, egotism and disappearances. A cheap, sentimental thing, no doubt, but also true that I wouldn't do anything ... but curse how slowly the hours went by until I could see her again.' Over and over again she tests him, never more so than in a bedroom in Tokyo, 'an experience that had left a wound in my memory.' He actually manages to persuade himself for a time that he does not love her, but the obsession is too powerful: 'I was a hopeless imbecile to still be in love with a madwoman, an adventurer, an unscrupulous female with whom no man, I least of all, could maintain a stable relationship without eventually being stepped on.' In time he tells his story to a friend, a woman, who calls it 'a marvelous love story,' and who later adds, 'What luck that girl has, inspiring love like this.' There is a moment when Ricardo wonders, 'Could this farce more than thirty years old be called a love story, Ricardito?' but in his heart he knows that's just what it is, and Vargas Llosa tells it as such. Being Vargas Llosa, he takes care of plenty of other business as well. The novel touches on the full sweep of Peruvian history from the 1950s to the Shining Path terrorism, 'which would last throughout the eighties and provoke an unprecedented bloodbath in Peruvian history: more than sixty thousand dead and disappeared.' He says a lament for the generation of Peruvians before his own 'who, when they reached old age, saw their lifelong dream of Peru making progress fade instead of materialize.' He also, having made Ricardo a translator and interpreter, affords himself the opportunity to have a bit of fun. One interpreter remarks: 'Our profession is a disguised form of procuring, pimping, or being a go-between,' and when Ricardo himself turns to translation, he discovers that, 'As I always suspected, literary translations were very poorly paid, the fees much lower than for commercial ones.' Probably no one is more amused by this than the redoubtable Edith Grossman, who has translated 'The Bad Girl' with her accustomed skill and grace, making this lovely novel wholly accessible to American readers. Jonathan Yardley's e-mail address is yardleyj(at symbol)washpost.com." Reviewed by Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"One of South America's finest contemporary writers." Dominic Bradbury, The Times (London)
"[A] compelling mixture of the public and the private." Los Angeles Times
"Tour de force. Masterpiece. Mario Vargas Llosa's new novel is an achievement of stunning dimension....
"Over and over again, the world dashes our hopes just as the bad girl disappoints Vargas Llosa's narrator — and yet we love it and keep hoping for the best anyway." San Francisco Chronicle
"Llosa writes an unabashed love story and makes no apologies for it....This feels like a novel of Llosa's sentimental old age (he's 71), but it's written with a passion and energy that delivers." Rocky Mountain News
"So complete and convincing is the spell cast by The Bad Girl that it doesn't allow a reader's attention to stray." New York Times
Ricardo Somocurcio is in love with a bad girl. He loves her as a teenager known as "Lily" in Lima in 1950, when she arrives one summer out of the blue, claiming to be from Chile but vanishing the moment her claim is exposed as fiction. He loves her next in Paris, where she appears as the enchanting "Comrade Arlette," an activist en route to Cuba, and becomes his lover, albeit n icy, remote one who denies knowing anything about the ily of years gone by. Whoever the bad girl turns up as--whether t's Madame Robert Arnoux, the wife of a high-ranking UNESCO fficial, or Kuriko, the mistress of a sinister Japanese businessman--and however poorly she treats him, Ricardo is doomed to worship her.
The protean Lily, gifted liar and irresistible, maddening muse--does Ricardo ever know who she really is? The answer is as unclear s what has become of Ricardo himself, a lifelong expatriate hadowed by the sense that he is only ever drifting. In MarioVargas Llosa's beguiling new novel, the strange bedfellows of good and bad turn out not to be what they appear.
A New York Times Notable Book of 2007
"Splendid, suspenseful, and irresistible . . . A contemporary love story that explores the mores of the urban 1960s--and 70s and 80s."--The New York Times Book Review
Ricardo Somocurcio is in love with a bad girl. He loves her as a teenager known as "Lily" in Lima in 1950, when she flits into his life one summer and disappears again without explanation. He loves her still when she reappears as a revolutionary in 1960s Paris, then later as Mrs. Richardson, the wife of a wealthy Englishman, and again as the mistress of a sinister Japanese businessman in Tokyo. However poorly she treats him, he is doomed to worship her. Charting Ricardo's expatriate life through his romances with this shape-shifting woman, Vargas Llosa has created a beguiling, epic romance about the life-altering power of obsession.
About the Author
Mario Vargas Llosa is the author of eight novels, most recently The Way to Paradise (FSG, 2003), and was the recipient of the PEN/Nabokov Award in 2002. He lives in London.
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