The Bad Girl: A Novel Paperback – Oct 28 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
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. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“Llosa writes an unabashed love story and makes no apologies for it. He seamlessly weaves it into the rich texture of the social atmosphere of the times. . . . Written with passion and energy that delivers.” ―Rocky Mountain News
“Perversely charming . . . irresistibly entertaining.” ―The Washington Post Book World
“A marvelous novel.” ―Chicago Tribune
“Spans decades and continents--and in the process, with a deftness that borders on literary sleight of hand, bridges the personal and the universal.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
“A beautifully constructed, stinging tease of a novel.” ―The Seattle TimesSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Readers won't be disappointed. I am new to Vargas Llosa and I love his style. I will read more of his books.
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The bad girl begins as a poor immigrant Chilean student named Lily in Miraflores, Peru, the small town from which young Ricardo hails. Young Ricardo falls head over heels for the elusive fifteen-year-old girl until she suddenly disappears from town. Several years later, Ricardo is in Paris, pursuing his simple dream of living in the city of lights while he begins his career as a translator for UNESCO. Through his friend Paul, an aspiring Latin American revolutionary living in Paris, Ricardo meets a young rebel recruit named Arlette. He quickly discovers that Arlette is the former Lily. Arlette is packed off to Cuba to join the revolutionary army and once again, a handful of years later, Ricardo finds Lily/Arlette in Paris once again, now the well-heeled wife of a Frenchman named Robert Arnaux. This pattern of donning new and successively more aggressive identities will characterize Lily's life and relegate Ricardo to being her touchstone, the one stable element of her existence.
Lucy/Arlette/Mrs. Arnaux proves herself a chameleon in human form, able to adapt her personal appearance, style, and language to fit each role she assumes. Her chameleon is also a heartless carnivore, a snake readily shedding its skin for a new life and a shark devouring its prey and intent on its next target. Her goals are simple - money and power, in that order. Ricardo, on the other hand, seeks only to live a modest life, as long as he can live it in Paris. As a nondescript translator and interpreter of Spanish, French, and Russian, Ricardo is the ultimate intermediary, a selfless purveyor of other people's words and ideas with barely an identity of his own. At times, he virtually revels in his anonymity, as if his profession absolves him of responsibility for committing or acting when so many of his friends and acquaintances are involved in political action. For much of the book, Ricardo is a literary Zelig, one who periodically submerges himself entirely in the bad girl's persona, as much or more out of lust than out of love. In so doing, he becomes a near-perfect enabler for the bad girl's risky, money-seeking behaviors.
Between or during each of her new identities, the bad girl experiences a "good boy" interlude with Ricardo that contrast his humble life style and expectations with her insidious drive for wealth and status. Llosa is careful, however, not to have us see Ricardo as a saint but rather as a bit of an addict, an emotional masochist who simultaneously desires and resents his abasement by the bad girl. Conversely, the author demonstrates that the bad girl is not without her human and even motherly merits in her relationship with their Parisian neighbors' adopted mute son, Yilal.
THE BAD GIRL traces world events through the revolutionary 1960s into the 1990s, from Castro and the Latin American upheavals to those in Eastern Europe and Russia. Some are inferred from the nature of the conferences Ricardo attends as an interpreter, while others like the advent of AIDS strike closer to home. The one constant referent to outside events is Peru, where his uncle Ataulfo supplies Ricardo with a steady stream of commentary on the perilous state of Peruvian democracy and economics. In many respects, the uncertain and mutually destructive nature of Ricardo's relationship with the bad girl provides a mirror of Peru as a developing nation and its political and economic relationship with the industrialized West and Japan. It is certainly no accident that the bad girl's doomed relationships occur with a Frenchman, a horsy-set Englishman, and a Japanese businessman. Despite their many ups and downs, these two exiled Peruvians ultimately can find peace only in each other's arms. The protean bad girl and the self-effacing good boy, neither successful in the developed world despite their various life strategies and ploys, serve perhaps as Llosa's commentary on his home country's need for self-reliance.
By Llosa's past standards, THE BAD GIRL is remarkably explicit but hardly beyond the bounds of taste. As with so many of his past works, such as THE WAR OF THE END OF THE WORLD, Llosa brings some memorable fictional characters into existence and employs them to shed light on the price of unbridled ambition and unchecked obsession in human relationships. THE BAD GIRL is a singularly enjoyable achievement.
From Lima to Paris, London, and Madrid, the story of the "bad girl" and the "good boy" unfolds, exploring all aspects of love and betrayal within the changing settings and political climates of the various countries in which the two have commitments. Whether it be revolutionary Cuba, to which Lily goes as Comrade Arlette; the Tupac Amaru guerilla movement in Peru, where some of Ricardo's friends battle the government; the French revolutionary movement which brought about the downfall of Charles DeGaulle; or the various United Nations conferences in the 1970s and 1980s, which Ricardo attends as a UNESCO translator, love, politics, and violence exist side by side.
Though author Mario Vargas Llosa bases the plot of his book on novels by Flaubert (Madame Bovary and A Sentimental Education), he makes Lily an individual--a femme fatale who forever drops in and then out of Ricardo's life--and any parallels with the Flaubert novels remain in the background. Lily, or whatever name she uses when she bursts in on his life, is a product of her times, a woman whose sexual freedom allows her to pursue whatever pleases her, whether that means having an affair with a Cuban leader or engaging in kinky sex with a Japanese gangster. She has no qualms about using Ricardo to solve problems when she is desperate--and then moving on, disappearing unexpectedly and leaving him bereft--as usual. (His constant acceptance of her behavior may make him a problematic protagonist for some readers.)
Vargas Llosa, whose fascination with politics permeates many of his novels, broadens the perspective of this novel beyond that of a love story by tying many of the characters' experiences to revolutionary politics, paying particular attention to Peruvian strongmen from 1960 to 1990. Drawing loose parallels between the bad girl, who represents Ricardo's constantly dashed (and always revitalized) hopes, and political candidates who promise the world and fail to deliver, he sets scenes and brings his characters to life in intense, vibrant prose. Though Vargas Llosa focuses on two people, the bad girl and the good boy, he creates a world around them that is so fully realized that their lives take on symbolic significance: the praying mantis has many parallels in life, love, and politics. Mary Whipple
The War of the End of the World
The Feast of the Goat: A Novel
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter: A Novel
Who Killed Palomino Molero?
In "The Bad Girl" Llosa, taking a cue from his literary idol Gustave Flaubert, comes at his main characters head on, this time trying to subordinate history - Lima, London and Paris during the 1960's and 70's - to the greater, more intense reality of the story's central characters, or as Flaubert might have said, sovereign identities. The experiment (for Llosa) fails, this book is no Madame Bovary. The breathtakingly shallow and insipid lovers, Lily (the Bad Girl) and Ricardo, her fellow Peruvian, a professional translator living out his dream life in Paris, seem to blur, as the book progresses, further and further into indistinctiveness and numbing repetition. When lovers within a novel repeat their silly nicknames to each other on seemingly every other page, we know the author's in trouble with his or her book. And in this book, the badder the bad girl becomes the less we sympathize with her, and it's the same in reverse for good Ricardo. The more Ricardo tolerates and absolves Lily of her sexual cruelty, the more we distance ourselves from him. Why does Lily, this sexual adventuress, keep returning to a man whose sole preoccupations appear to revolve around saving enough money to buy a tiny Paris apartment and running off, every week, to provide translation at yet another boring bureaucratic event?
Paris, city of lights and love and all kinds of intellectual ferment is elicited by Llosa, through the eyes of Ricardo, as little more than an accumulation of the city's street names. There is, happily, a familiar return to artistic form for this great writer at the end of the novel. Ravaged, predictably, by a deadly disease, Lily is tenderly cared for by Ricardo until her imminent release into death. Within these quiet, dignified final scenes of the book, we are moved by the powerful pathos of fulfilled domestic responsibilities. We are, at last and for a fleeting moment, reminded of Flaubert.
Another thing that bothered me so, given this is a novel about a translator/interpreter Ms. Grossman should have been careful about translating the names of places, organizations, and things that were essential to the characters (Peruvian)and to those of us who speak spanish.
It drew me nuts that she left the French items intact yet translated "Sendero Luminoso" into "shining path". This is the name of a very ill reputed guerrilla/terrorist organization and she just missed the boat on that one. For readers who speak Mr. Llosa's native language this translation falls short.