Saturday, 29 December 2007

The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa

MARIO Vargas Llosa wrote one of the funniest books ever, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, and in The Bad Girl he's back with another coyly distant seductress.

We meet her first as the teenager from Chile who electrifies the middle-class parties of 1950s Lima with her sexy dancing and sexier high-falutin ways.

Narrator Ricardo adores Lily, but she won't ever agree to actually go steady, always holding hands and going out with him, but keeping him strictly at a distance.

Until the disastrous day when, at the birthday party of one of the jealous local girls, she's introduced to an actual Chilean, and is outed (gasp!) as a working-class girl, and banished from the parties and girly teas - though the boys still pursue her.

Cut to Paris in the 1960s, where Ricardo, still earnest, still solemn, is happily studying to be a translator, while giving a dig out to the would-be Communist revolutionaries.

Bringing in a batch of trainee Che Guevaras from the airport, he recognises one - it's Lily, rebranded as Arlette.

But he's too chicken to follow through, and in a breath she's in Cuba training for the liberation of Peru. Then Ricardo hears that she's the lover of the big man of the Cuban revolution.

Then he meets her again in Paris - now glammed up and the wife of a diplomat.

Famously, this is a homage to Madame Bovary, but The Bad Girl has its own South American way, and is funny and very winning.

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