Mario Vargas Llosa: The Bad Girl A Novel

by Rachel Baker on February 10, 2009

As most of you know, I’ve given myself a world literature challenge this year.  I am reading books written by authors outside of the United States.  Thus far, I’ve been extremely happy with the selections I’ve read.

I wrote about The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa already, saying it was one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read.  The newest addition to my finished reading book stack is “The Bad Girl” (Picador, 2007) by Mario Vargas Llosa.  In the same way The Housekeeper and The Professor was incredibly beautiful, The Bad Girl is an incredibly raw love story. 

From the very beginning, “The Bad Girl” reminded me of “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Interestingly, both books were translated from the Spanish to English by Edith Grossman.  Both stories are about a lifetime spent loving someone who appears to not know you exist.  However, the difference is the type of relationship prior to growing up and tasting what the world has to offer.  In “Love…” there is a secret relationship budding between two young lovers.  In “The Bad Girl,” there is a limited  relationship by the girl who would become known as “the bad girl”.  The women in both books, grow and develop into beautiful women (from the perspective of the men who love them), however, the girl in The Bad Girl becomes the equivalent to a femme fatale.

Unlike “Love…”, The Bad Girl is, in my opinion, not a story of unrequited love.  In fact, it becomes clear early on to the astute reader the bad girl does in fact love Richardo, and finds him to be the real stability in her life. Just the fact that she knows he has loved her since they were kids creates some strange balance in her world.  However horribly she treats him, she can count on him to worship her every time she comes back into his life.  Richardo is obsessed with the bad girl; she is obsessed with not being who she was brought up to be. His obsession starts as a teenager; her very different obsession, we learn, starts prior to her teenage years.

Richardo’s pain, every time the bad girl comes into his life (after years away) is easily felt by the reader. Her torment of him spans across the globe for many, many decades and is accomplished in intimately harsh ways. Frankly, she’s a disgusting character for most of the book.  In a strange way, though he is the main character, his development is somewhat stagnant.  He never truly waivers in his love for the bad girl, though he tries to push her away, and fails.

One thing I find very interesting about both these books is the character obsessively in  love is a man.  I have read very few books written by American authors where this is the case. In American novels, it seems more likely, women are obsessed with loving and waiting for the man to recognize the best thing that’s ever happened to him is right in front of him and has been his whole life.  In all fairness, maybe I’m not reading the “right” books to see this.  But I think the important factor here has to do with cultural attitude and gender roles.  Both of these books are written by men.  In America, we live in a patriarchal culture.  I am curious about whether Peru (Llosa’s country) and Columbia (Marquez’s country) are more matriarchal cultures.  OR is it as simple as…are these fantastic books here in America, because they are written from a different perspective?

I don’t really know the answers to these questions right now.  I have another book by Llosa on the bookstack for near future reading and I would like to read a couple more by Marquez.  I also have several other South American writers on the book stack to read. As I continue to read these books, I will keep these questions in mind, looking for similarities and differences.

In closing, if you liked “Love in the Time of Cholera” I would wholeheartedly recommend “The Bad Girl” by Mario Vargas Llosa.  In my opinion, both of these books, show a real and powerful testament to how strongly and deeply we are able to love another.  In both of these books, the fairy tale exists…it may just take some time for the fairy tale to come true.

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