Wednesday, January 28, 2009

77 (2009 #2). The Bad Girl

by Mario Vargas Llosa,
translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman

The main character in this novel, Ricardo Somocurcio, is obsessed with a woman he first meets as the “Chilean girl” Lily in his native Peru in 1950. She reappears in the early 60s in Paris as guerrilla-fighter-in-training “Comrade Arlette.” She goes to Cuba where she becomes the lover of a Cuban revolutionary commander and later the wife of French diplomat Robert Arnoux and winds up back in Paris. She steals his money and later turns up in swinging London in the late 60s and early 70s, as Mrs. David Richardson, the Mexican wife of a rich English horse fan. Leaving him when she’s found to be a bigamist, she turns up in Tokyo in 1979 as Kuriko, mistress and smuggler for the sadistic gangster Fukuda.

Ricardo keeps running into her in his job as a translator and interpreter based in Paris. The “love story” of this “bad girl” with “good boy” Ricardo is secondary to the story of Ricardo’s life in these places as well as in Lima, Madrid, and Paris again in the 80s. Throughout it all, Ricardo comments on the politics and history of Peru (not surprisingly, Peruvian Llosa has been active in his country’s government through the years).

The love story is fascinating but not particularly believable. Ricardo must be a masochist (he once dubs her “my praying mantis”), to put up with the abusive treatment he gets from the bad girl who repeatedly calls him a “little pissant” [sic] who says “cheap, sentimental things” to her. Ricardo’s fixation on her reminds me of Florentino Ariza's fifty-year obsession for Fermina Daza in Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, but without the magical realism. He tries to move on with his life, but doesn’t really change or develop. The bad girl shows some redeeming qualities by the end of the book, and there is some explanation for why she might be the way she is. I found the minor characters, Ricardo’s various friends and relatives, to be the most interesting and better evolved.

This was not an easy read – the chapters were few but extremely long. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the descriptions of the various locales and events of the times, and yes, the rather graphic sexual scenes. I found myself looking forward to the next appearance of the bad girl to find out what would happen next in hers and Ricardo’s crazy relationship. And I love the book’s cover!


  1. This book was on sale @ Amazon...I wondered about it. Sound like I might like it!

  2. Hey, I got mine for free - you can certainly borrow it if you like! It does drag a bit sometimes though.