“The Bad Girl” by Mario Vargas Llosa

 “The Bad Girl” by Mario Vargas Llosa (2006)  – 276 pages  Translated by Edith Grossman

In the early 1980s I discovered Latin American literature in a big way.  As with so many United States readers, it all started for me with Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Columbia and his novel of magical realism, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, one of those books you must read if you haven’t already done so.  I won’t try to be at all comprehensive and will mention only a few of the novels I read after that.  Some of the novels I most appreciated were “We Love Glenda So Much” by Julio Cortazar from Argentina,  “Betrayed by Rita Hayworth” by Manuel Puig also from Argentina,  “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende from Chile, “El Senor Presidente” by Miguel Angel Asturias from Guatamala, and  “Gabriela, Clove, and Cinnamon” by Jorge Amado from Brazil. Actually I could mention about seven or eight novels by Jorge Amado, because he was my favorite.  

That era was a Renaissance for Latin American literature.  I read so many great novels that it led me to some of the classical Latin American writers such as Ciro Alegria from Peru whose “The Golden Serpent” was superb and finally to Joaquin Maria Machado de Assis from Brazil who wrote several novels including “Epitaph for a Small Winner” and “Don Casmurro” and is probably one of the greatest writers who ever lived. 

Another writer I discovered at the same time as Cortazar, Puig, and Amado was Mario Vargas Llosa from Peru.  I was lucky to discover him fairly early in his career.  I started with the novel that sort of made Vargas Llosa’s career, “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter”.  At the time, that book fairly blended in with all the others, a rich combination of the political and the romantic.   Since this was in the early Eighties, the only way to read more of his novels was to read his earlier work.  Two of these early works that I really admired were “Captain Pantoja and the Secret Service” and “The Green House”.

At some point, I started to tell people that Mario Vargas Lllosa was probably as deserving of a Nobel Prize as Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  At that time I suppose it was a fairly obnoxious thing to say.  Still Vargas Llosa seemed like a guy who was born to write,whose delight in creating stories shined through in all his work.  His books dealt with dramatic political situations, but at the same time they always contained romance and humor, everything I had come to expect from South American novels.   In some ways, Vargas Llosa’s enthusiasm for writing reminds me of the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami.   

Over the years, I’ve kept up with his work, so when he won the Nobel Prize himself, I decided to read his novel “The Bad Girl”.  “The Bad Girl” is a story that starts out in Peru when the good boy Ricardo and bad girl Lily are kids and follows them around the world from Paris to swinging London to Japan to Spain for the next forty years.  Ricardo’s life as a translator and interpreter is constant while the bad girl switches from rich husband to richer husband to even richer husband and gets involved in ever more compromising situations.  Yet Ricardo’s love is enduring from their first school yard romance when they were thirteen years old.  Along the way we sometimes hear about peripheral serious dramas, but mostly it is a playful silly little novel, maybe a good one to read if you haven’t read Vargas Llosa before and are afraid you might be intimidated by his work.  

    “To the bad girl, with the unchanging affection of the little pissant who translated these stories.”

Nothing intimidating here.  For me, the novel is perhaps too long for what there is of the story.    I suppose I would have preferred a novel with more substance, more edge such as Vargas Llosa’s novel about the dictator Trujillo, “The Feast of the Goat” which I haven’t read yet.  Reading “The Bad Girl” was a pleasant little interlude, very good but not great.   Maybe new readers of Vargas Llosa should start with “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter”.

Now if only I could develop the same level of enthusiasm for more recent Latin American writers such as Roberto Bolano, Cesar Aira, and Junot Diaz.        

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12 responses to this post.

  1. I do want to read Llosa but have heard mixed reports about him in my household. We love Garcia Marquez, but my husband dislikes Llosa. Maybe Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter would be a good place for me to start.

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  2. Hi Frisbee,
    Yes, “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter” would be a good choice. Of his recent works, I’ve read some good things about “The Feast of the Goat”. I guess one point I was making is not to forget all these other wonderful writers like Cortazar, Puig, Amado, etc. in all the hullabaloo about Llosa now. Also the classic works of Machado de Assis, he’s brilliant. I suppose his role in South American literature is similar to that of Gogol in Russian literature.

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  3. I have read “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter” it is a very well crafted novel. Of his works, I’ve read “The Feast of the Goat”,” Death on Andes”,” The Real Life of Alejandro Maita”. I have translated ” Who Killed Palomino Molero?” into Farsi.

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    • Hi Asadaollah Amraee,
      Great to hear from you. I am not at all familiar with Farsi and don’t even know where it is spoken. For Vargas Llosa as well as all the other Latin American writers, I rely on translators, so I think it is excellent that you are translating novels.

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  4. Posted by bythefirelight on November 1, 2010 at 2:21 PM

    Interesting review. Some of his books have never stuck me as interesting. I once read In Praise of the Stepmother and was quite disappointed. Glad you mentioned Captain Pantoja and the Secret Service, which I read years ago and could not remember the title. I remember liking it, too, but couldn’t say much about it now.

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    • Hi bythefirelight,
      I did have in my records that I read “In Praise of the Stepmother” which I gave a rating of three stars on a four star rating system, so it wasn’t one of my favorites either. I don’t remember the details of ‘Captain Pantoja and the Secret Service’, but I did give it four stars.

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  5. Posted by Harry on November 28, 2010 at 7:22 AM

    Hi,

    I think you should read these novels:

    Conversation in the Cathedral
    The war of the end of the world
    The city and the dogs

    So far the best novels of Mario Vargas Llosa (to me off course). I read all his books in Spanish and I think those are the best for several reasons that it could take forever to explain.

    The Feast of the Goat is excellent too. I just finished the Dream of the Celt and it was okay. I like it but not as his other works.

    The Conversation in the Cathedral is hard to read at the beginning because it is not a linear novel. You should pay extra attention but it worth it. I think this novel is AMAZING!

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    • Hi Harry,
      Thank you for the Vargas Llosa recommendations. I had heard that ‘Conversation in the Cathedral’ and ‘The War at the End of the World’ were major novels, but I suppose their length daunted me to some extent. I do have the disadvantage of not knowing Spanish. Your comments tell me I should put ‘Conversation at the Cathedral’ on my ‘To Read’ list.

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      • Posted by Harry on December 1, 2010 at 6:41 AM

        Yeah, those are major novels and pretty complex too. You need to pay attention all the time, specially in the Conversation in the Cathedral.
        In the meantime you should read the Feat of the Goat. That is an excellent novel too and after that you will be motivated to read the other ones.

        Happy reading!

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  6. Oh, I missed this as it was clearly posted the day I flew to Hong Kong. Anyhow, as you know I have since read The feast of the goat, and would highly recommend it. I have also read Aunt Julia, but a long time ago. You’ve intrigued me with The bad girl, but as I haven’t yet read any Puig yet I think my next Latin American foray should be him. He’s also The kiss of the spiderwoman writer isn’t he?

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  7. Hi WhisperingGums,
    Yes, I’m quite sure “Feast of the Goat” will be my next Vargas Llosa. And Puig did write “Kiss of the Spiderwoman” a great novel and movie. I also thought his “Heartbreak Tango” was excellent. For me, the 70s and 80s were a great time for Latin American literature, and I haven’t found any recent Latin American writers I like as much as these, but I’m still looking.

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  8. Excellent post! We are linking to this great post on our site. Keep up the good writing.

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