Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Bad Girl - Mario Vargas Llosa

The seven-chapter structure is the clue.  The Bad Girl is Vargas Llosa's view of the Seven Ages of Woman. Written when he was nudging 70 it is, unfortunately, a tad sentimental, more than a little self-serving, and - it has to be said - downright misogynistic. Good old reliable, hard-working, studious Ricardo is always the good boy and the object of his lust (he prefers 'love of his life'), with her sudden disappearances, reinvention, forever changing persona and sexual self-indulgence, is perforce the bad girl.
You could certainly read The Bad Girl on that premise, and no doubt enjoy her fall from grace, the inevitable ruin of age and promiscuity. But never forget that Vargas Llosa is a genius. On a more prosaic note, remember his predilection for marrying relatives. This may reflect women he has known but he has surely never known a single woman like this bad girl.  This is fiction, not autobiography. So we should question Ricardo's self-righteousness - to what extent does he let himself be mistreated because that is how he likes it?  To what extent does he relish the ultimate triumph, when he gets to tend her like a pet because she has used up all the life in her whereas he has doled out his life, like Prufrock, in coffee-spoons? And Lily, who was never even Lily to begin with, what of the vast majority of her life which we don't see?  What caused her to live this life of assumed personas? How much of the pretense is artifice, how much delusion? In this respect, Vargas Llosa offers one insight, in the penultimate chapter, magnificently entitled "Arquimedes, Builder of Breakwaters".
The book only achieves maximum effect if you constantly challenge what you are being told. Even to the extent of asking, is Arquimedes really who he claims to be, or just an old chancer telling the guy who buys him drinks what he wants to hear? The bad girl is, after all, the good boy's dream girl. And The Bad Girl, the novel, is a magnificent achievement, published in the 21st century but really a classic of the late 20th. Hugely, unreservedly, recommended.

Others books by Mario Vargas Llosa discussed on this blog:

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