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4.0 out of 5 stars About The Bad Girl
I greatly enjoyed this book, as I did 'Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter' by the same writer, but whose other books I didn't get on with so well. I loved the wide sweep of 'The Bad Girl', covering a whole life and the cultural and political changes within that life. The main characters provoked very strong emotions for me. I felt affectionate and sympathetic towards...
Published on 19 May 2012 by Lover of Words

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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading but nowhere near his best
I keep changing my mind about this book - I can't decide if it is a good book that narrowly misses being very good, or an average book that narrowly misses being quite bad.

I've been reading Vargas Llosa for over twenty five years - this is the eleventh of his books that I've read. In terms of style this is the most conventional of those eleven - had it not had...
Published on 15 May 2008 by Pardo


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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading but nowhere near his best, 15 May 2008
By 
Pardo (Kent) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Bad Girl (Hardcover)
I keep changing my mind about this book - I can't decide if it is a good book that narrowly misses being very good, or an average book that narrowly misses being quite bad.

I've been reading Vargas Llosa for over twenty five years - this is the eleventh of his books that I've read. In terms of style this is the most conventional of those eleven - had it not had his name on the front I wouldn't have recognized it as his - gone are the multiple narratives and dazzling, non-sequential time shifts. I miss them. They made novels like The Green House and The Storyteller hard but rewarding reads. This book was hard work at times as well but not for the same reasons. Deliberately "bad" writing is a dangerous device and Vargas Llosa overuses it here. At least I'm assuming that it is deliberately bad, because some of it is so facile that a writer of Vargas Llosa's quality and a translator of Edith Grossman's experience couldn't have created some of the dross that is served up here without deliberation (particularly in the early parts of the book, to link the periods when the "bad girl" appears). The description of "swinging London" is so bad that it sounds like it was written by a fourteen year-old - although even the squarest 14 year-old is unlikely to have come up with a list of London "trend setters" that includes Cliff Richard. This is presumably done for effect, to bring the novel to life when the Bad Girl appears but is also asks the reader to put up with a lot that they wouldn't tolerate from an unknown author.

Some people have said that they find the character of the Bad Girl either unbelievable or so unappealing that it is hard to persevere with the novel - or to understand what the narrator sees in her. I disagree - I've known a few women like the Bad Girl and can quite understand the narrator's obsession. However, your reaction may depend upon what you feel an author's representation of an individual suggests about their opinion of a group. It would be possible to write a feminist interpretation of this novel suggesting that the author's depiction of a strong, sexually independent woman being physically and mentally destroyed as a result of this independence is simple male wish fulfilment - the desire to destroy something which is both desirable and terrifying (add the fact that they first time the couple make love he is "too big" for her and that in his sixties he has a relationship with a much younger woman and the case for this being a novel of male wish-fulfilment looks increasingly strong!). Couple this with the fact that the only gay character dies of AIDS and you could make a convincing case that his was a very conservative and reactionary novel. I don't think it is, but one could make a case that way.

Is it all bad? No. I found the Bad Girl an fascinating character and the relationship believable. Also, as an expat myself, I found Vargas Llosa's description of the narrator's dislocation from both his homeland and his adopted home very real. It is possible to read the novel as an allegory of a writer's career, as Keris Nine says, although it is interesting that I've never seen Varags Llosa say this in any interviews about the book. If so, it is a bit heavy handed - I prefer to read it as a love story and a fable about the dangers of always wanting something more, something unatainable, something better than we have.

In short - I really wanted to love this book, as I have most of Vargas Llosa's work. I didn't - I enjoyed it, but doubt that I will read it again. I almost gave it four stars out of loyalty and affection for the author's previous work - but to be honest, if this had been the first of his novels that I'd read I probably wouldn't have bothered to pick up his earlier work.

PS 2 Nov 2010

Now that the author has won the Nobel there might be a few people looking for his work who've not read him yet. For what it is worth, my favourites are The Green House (hard work but worth it), Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter and The Storyteller. I also remember finding Captain Pantoja and the Special Service very funny when I read it aged 19 - not sure if it would seem quite so funny 25 years on but it might do. I haven't read War of the End of the World or Conversation in the Cathedral - they are both on my reading list for the next few months though and several people I respect rave about them. I read that Vargas Llosa regards Conversation in the Cathedral as his favourite. Of the recent work, both The Feast of the Goat and The Way to Paradise are worth reading - and, in my opinion, better that The Bad Girl.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Weakest offering yet., 2 Sept. 2008
By 
This review is from: The Bad Girl (Hardcover)
For me, this is definitely Vargas Llosa's weakest offering yet. Although entertaining enough, and written with his undeniable skill and style, this latest novel is well short of Vargas Llosa's normal high standards.
Essentially this novel is a story following the inextricably linked lives of the 2 main characters, across various continents and decades. Disappointingly, however, the underlying theme of the novel seems to be the author's desire to demonstrate his knowledge of all the countries in which he himself has lived over the various decades, rather than having any great story to tell. The story itself is threadbare, a poor man's Love in the Time of Cholera, and is essentially a ridiculous sequence of coincidental meetings between the writer and the nina mala. The novel crescendos to a farcical level, when the protagonist has a chance meeting with the nina's father in Peru.
Normally so insightful and probing, Vargas Llosa spends little time or care in examining or describing characters outside of the central plot.
Once I have overcome my disappointment, I will re-read some of his other works, so as not to leave a bitter taste in my mouth.
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4.0 out of 5 stars About The Bad Girl, 19 May 2012
This review is from: The Bad Girl (Paperback)
I greatly enjoyed this book, as I did 'Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter' by the same writer, but whose other books I didn't get on with so well. I loved the wide sweep of 'The Bad Girl', covering a whole life and the cultural and political changes within that life. The main characters provoked very strong emotions for me. I felt affectionate and sympathetic towards Ricardo, the linguist, the way he threw himself into his work, his love of Paris (which I share), his strong aesthetic sensibility, his cultured interests and his kindness to others. I felt real hatred for 'The Bad Girl' whose behaviour was entirely selfish and whose addiction to danger bored me. I think the most interesting thing about the book was that a person like Ricardo could be so enslaved and so 'in love' with such a person, all his life. It was inexplicable and I like a good mystery and humans are full of mystery and paradox, I find. The blurb described Ricardo's state as 'sexual obsession' but his attachment to Lily clearly went well beyond that. The tension was very well maintained throughout and I really cared what would happen to Ricardo. My edition was translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman and she must have done a very good job to create an excellent read. That said, I found some expressions eg 'cheap, sentimental things' and 'pissant' irritating because they did not convey anything at all to me which I am sure is due to poor translation. Perhaps Lily was talking about 'cliches' or 'sweet nothings' when she mocked his outpourings of love for her. I learned a lot about Peru too from this book. I believe Vargas Llosa stood for presidency of Peru some years ago (don't think he won), so he should know something about it. The lesser characters were also intriguing- the elective mute child, the strange genius-translater, the breakwater finder. Finally, I would remark that the book often made me laugh - there was a light touch in the language, and I have to admit sometimes that came from the lips of Lily.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Almost the best, 9 April 2015
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This review is from: The Bad Girl (Paperback)
This is in no sense a believable story, and that is the central weakness. If you read it as a parable about Peru, in particular Lima, and see Vargas Llosa working through his feeling of how Peru has turned its back on its past and now celebrates only the trappings of wealth and success, baubles which have come back as a tiny part of its own stolen patrimony, then it stands up as a means of making a case.

The story-teller, surely the great man himself, gets as good a kicking ad the Bad Girl, in Europe but an outsider there as well as in Peru, he can see her fate but does nothing about it, he accepts a secondary relationship which he then allows to wither, he knows what he has to do but just cannot do it.

The old water engineer, grateful for a drink and a sandwich, who knows more than anyone about things that really matter is a bit of a cardboard cut-out, but is needed to represent the continuity of thought that is mostly discarded in modern Peru. There are of course marvelous descriptive passages (it is Vargas Llosa), and the whole thing is enormously enjoyable, but it isn't quite a work of genius, which I thought it was going to be when I started.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Was this the best introduction to Mario Vargas Llosa?, 12 Mar. 2012
By 
G. D. Busby "Cornish Graham" (Cornwall) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Bad Girl (Paperback)
I understand that this author has written across a number of genres...so this might not have been the best introduction for me. Ultimately, it makes one feel a bit low, may be that is the intention! It has shades of John Irving's Last Night in Twisted River, Denis Wheatley's Strange Story of Linda Lee, and William Boyd's Any Human Heart. It is gripping so does that mean it cannot be literary fiction? The contextualisation against the political situation of the times is good (even I remember the effect of Sendero Luminoso, in Peru). Overall, yes, I would recommend it.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You're my praying mantis... The female insect devours the male while he's making love to her. He dies happy, apparently.", 25 Oct. 2007
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Bad Girl (Hardcover)
(4.5 stars) In 1950, when Ricardo Somocurcio first meets Lily, a "Chilean" exotic in Lima, Peru, he is fifteen, sure of only one thing--that she is the most bewitching creature he has ever known. His young infatuation eventually develops into a lifelong obsession, and his story of how Lily dominates all aspects of his romantic life for more than forty years shows both the mysterious power of unconditional love and the peril of misplaced devotion. Lily is a will-o'-the-wisp, appearing and vanishing, changing names, following the lure of power to revolutionary Cuba, the lure of wealth to Paris, and eventually the lure of both power and wealth to Japan, where her lover is a high ranking yakuza sadist. Somehow, however, she always makes her way back to Ricardo, whom she professes not to love, despite, or perhaps because of, his unquestioned acceptance of her humiliations of him.

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
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4.0 out of 5 stars Touching and somewhat tragic tale, 19 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: The Bad Girl (Kindle Edition)
My wife recommended this book having originally read it in Spanish. It was well written and kept me wanting to turn the page to see what happened to 'The Bad Girl' next.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The writer's curse, 13 Feb. 2008
By 
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Bad Girl (Hardcover)
In its passion for love, life and writing, Mario Vargas Llosa's latest novel returns brilliantly to the inspirations of one of his best novels 'Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter'. In 'The Bad Girl', an idealistic young man leaves Miraflores in Peru with no greater ambition than to spend the rest of his years living in the most beautiful city in the world, Paris. He is content to be nothing more than a humble translator and interpreter as long as it allows him to remain there, but a mysterious beautiful woman from his past turns up unexpectedly, and his life never again knows a moment's peace. Despite the torments she puts him through over the subsequent decades, he is continually unable to resist her charms.

There is little doubt that the desirable but uncontrollable 'bad girl' is nothing more than Ricardo's muse, the vital impulse to interact with life and write about it - each of her appearances coinciding with a new decade and new stage in the opening up of narrator's life. Even when the author is describing the most passionate of love scenes with the irresistible 'bad girl', you suspect that the only banging going on in all those hotel rooms and Parisian garrets is on a typewriter.

It sounds like a clever conceit, and anyone failing to catch the subtle literary subtext will undoubtedly struggle to get past the apparent coincidences of Ricardo's encounters, or the superficial treatment of the political content, but Vargas Llosa makes it all completely relevant and meaningful through his passionate and brilliant writing. 'The Bad Girl' is a dazzling, entertaining and deeply poignant work that, whether you are a writer or not, sums up the need to wholeheartedly embrace life, to make the most of the friendships that come your way, accepting all the joys and the heartaches that enrich the experience.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Not a great read, 29 Jan. 2013
This review is from: The Bad Girl (Paperback)
Read by book group, disappointing and lacking sympathy with characters by all. Surprise to some after previous books from this author. Not for rereading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book, 11 Nov. 2010
By 
B. Lewandowska "B" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bad Girl (Paperback)
Passionate, excellent novel with many uexpected changes of events. You wouldn't like to stop until you have read the whole book.
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The Bad Girl
The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa (Paperback - 7 Aug. 2008)
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