Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Bad Girl

Having not read anything by Mario Vargas Llosa, I hopped at the chance to buy a super cheap copy of The Bad Girl (trans. Edith Grossman) a couple of years ago, but it had been languishing on my shelves until now. I wish I had let it be. I can only assume Llosa was given the Nobel for other work, because this novel is truly one of the worst things I’ve read in ages. It reminds me a little of Márquez’s Memories of My Melancholy Whores, and perhaps I should take note that both have the same translator. Does Edith Grossman only translate Latin American novels about a aging male narrator’s screwed up relationship with women?

The novel, in brief, comprises episodes in the life of Ricardo Somocurcio, an expatriate Peruvian translator living in France. Specifically, the chapters record a series of encounters (brief and long) with a woman he considers the love of his life but who nonetheless rejects him in favor of a series of relationships with wealthy men, every time with a new identity. At the same time, the narrator describes the political and social scene in each of these moments.

Part of the problem here is the tale of the tragic women, complete with a narrative comeuppance for her bad behavior. The other major issue is the social and political description. Both the romance and the atmosphere are simply dull-—maybe no word characterizes the novel so much as “dutiful,” in the worst sense. Llosa seems to feel obligated to show us that he is a very good boy and knows about revolutionary activity in the 60s, the sexual revolutions, AIDS, the changed economy of the 90s, but none of it carries any weight. It is just a series of facts and cultural observations, reported without passion or consequence. Likewise, the portrayal of Latin romance is like some ludicrous stereotype Llosa rehearses for the audience. Ricardo and the bad girl joke about his “cheap” clichéd romance. I suppose we are to think that despite its banality his passion is nonetheless true to life, but I found it hard to take seriously.

Even A Naked Singularity a had a few redeeming virtues: unless I’m pretty unlucky, I think Llosa’s novel will end up being my worst read of the year. At least it was relatively short?

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