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In Praise of the Stepmother: A Novel [Paperback]

Mario Vargas Llosa , Helen Lane
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 1 2002
With meticulous observation and the seductive skill of a great storyteller, Vargas Llosa lures the reader into the shadow of perversion that, little by little, darkens the extraordinary happiness and harmony of his characters. The mysterious nature of happiness and above all, the corrupting power of innocence are the themes that underlie these pages, and the author has perfectly met the demands of the erotic novel, never dimming for an instant the fine poetic polish of his writing.

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From Publishers Weekly

Don Rigoberto and his second wife arouse each other by telling highly eroticized classic myths based on the six well-known paintings reproduced here in color; meanwhile, Rigoberto's seemingly cherubic young son, Alfonso, cunningly seduces his stepmother. "This lapidary novella by the celebrated Peruvian writer reflects an artistry of almost infinite sophistication," said PW.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

Vargas Llosa's brief novel dramatizes--but in most undramatic terms--an erotic triangle involving a self-absorbed if passionate widower, his voluptuous new wife, and his young son. Set forth as a series of tableaux inspired by master paintings (reproduced here in color), the novel eventually reveals itself as the actual instrument by which the son destroys his father's new marriage. Vargas Llosa's novel The Storyteller ( LJ 9/15/89) won high praise, but Stepmother --static and obsessive as it is--conveys none of the excitement of his best work. Perhaps he has been distracted; most recently, the author was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency of Peru. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/90.
-Grove Koger, Boise P.L., Id.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
It was past midnight and Don Rigoberto was in the bathroom performing his ablutions, slow-paced and complicated, before going to bed. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In Praise of Vargas Llosa Sept. 19 2000
By A Customer
For North Americans and Europeans, In Praise of the Stepmother is no doubt the best known and most controversial of all of Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa's books. Wickedly witty and fun, this is a strange and beautiful little gem and a truly masterful and original piece of erotic storytelling.
Lucrecia, newly married to Lima resident, Don Rigoberto, an older, wealthy collector of erotic paintings, suddenly finds her position jeopardized by her husband's young son, Alfonso. She honestly wants the boy to love her, but at what cost? When Fonchito's hard won affection becomes hopelessly entangled with precocious--and dangerous--desire, the fun certainly begins, but the price, we see, may prove to be all too high.
As the relationship progresses into absurdity during Don Rigoberto's all-too-often absences, Vargas Llosa provides thematic commentary in the form of selections from the Don's art collection, included as full-color reproductions of famous paintings, from the Renaissance to the present day, each accompanied by a story to which the painting is to be an illustration. As the book progresses, so does the parade of paintings, twisting and expanding the concept of erotica.
For a small book, In Praise of the Stepmother has an enormous potential to enthrall and, yes, provoke. You might wonder how anyone could have written a book as good as this one. The only answer, of course, is that it is Vargas his best.
Strangely enough, in South America, it is Vargas Llosa's political novels that cause controversy; in North America, it is the sexual content. The cover of this little gem, Exposure of Luxury by Bronzino, was enough to make the censors want to go to work.
Anyone who loves wickedness, fun, wit or Vargas Llosa with fall in love with this book at the drop of a...stepmother.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but disturbing June 22 2004
I dont think of myself as someone that would use the word perversion. . at least not in a negative way. . but I never got comfortable about reading a book that describes in detail the sexual relationship between a stepmother and her very young step-son. Vargas Llosa writes beautifully, there is no doubt. But I still don't want to read a beautifully written passage about a 10 year old seducing a 40 year old.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Erotic Wonder, by fermed July 26 2000
This book has so much beauty and sheer writing virtuosity that it must stand separate and alone. Like the Chaconne, or the suites for unaccompanied cello, or Shakespeare's sonnets, this book takes your breath away.
An integral part of the narrative are the six paintings (handsome reproductions of world art by Fra Angelico and Francis Bacon, among others) which are woven as counterpoint to the storyline. Nowhere in literature does one encounter such a masterful and extraordinary melding of two art forms: it produces a delectable, erotic, and frightening little masterpiece.
It is a story of lust, love, revenge, of Eros, of sexual awakening, and of the punctilious attention to one's body parts. It can be spiritual or gross, refined or vulgar, hilarious or tragic, depending on who you are, how you look at it, and the mood you are in. Every time I have read it (five, so far) it has again shocked, and delighted and made me humble by the sheer force of its beauty. The flawless translation by Helen Lane detracts not one iota from the Spanish original. Of course you should read it.
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With horror and delectation I read this in the original Spanish. Little Fonchito, in love with his stepmother, is like the infant Cupid who does not realize what calamities his aphrodisiac arrows can engender. Or does he? The paintings that accompany the text are a jarring mix, from Venus at her bath, to a repulsive creature who despite a tousle of misplaced limbs and organs still manages to find a partner and get off. This book is a hold-your-breath journey through dark primal desire veiled in a lacy pink Valentine. And with the added attraction of being both sumptuous and succinct, as well as full of suspense. Titillating, encompassing, recriminating. Read it and luxuriate in guilt.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A CLASSIC OF LIMA June 9 2000
This is a miraculous, intriguing, daring and unlikely book that compares with Lolita in theme and aftertaste. One is always cautious of the pitfalls of translations, but the sincere erotica of this short novel, combined with its anchoring art references and child-heart, elevates it in a way that you don't notice its foreign origins. Llosa is, of course, a masterful storyteller. He is also audacious, which may be be his lasting relevance. Here, the revelatory title tells but half the story: you have to take the journey with Fonchito to fully enjoy Llosa's sardonic take on the duplicity and ignorance of the human condition. A small classic!
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