The Bad Girl, by Mario Vargas Llosa
If I had to choose a single adjective for The Bad Girl I think, I’d definitely go with interesting, rather than good or enjoyable. As with Loeser in the Teleportation Accident, the protagonist (Ricardo) is unable to get over his obsession and love for an elusive female, this time the titular Bad Girl.
The first time Ricardo meets the Bad Girl, she turns up in the suburb of Lima in which he lives, pretending to be from Chile, an exoticism that attracts not only Ricardo, but the whole neighbourhood. Once caught in a lie, the Bad Girl disappears, but Ricardo is destined to run into her over and over again throughout his life.
While there is nothing particularly bad about this plot, and it’s certainly well written, even in translation the prose is very enjoyable, I found it less interesting than the overview of 20th Century Peruvian history that the plot facilitates. I’ve always felt attracted to Peru, since I went there for a month in 2005, it’s what made me pick up the book in the first place, but aside from a few snippets here and there, I never knew much about the history. So reading Ricardo’s story, which tells the story of the rise and fall of Peru’s communist guerilla and the subsequent attempt and failure of democracy and slide into dictatorship, was fascinating for me, and more so than the story itself, which at times got quite annoying.
There were some very touching moments, including a part where the Bad Girl finally convinces Ricardo’s neighbours adopted and PTSD suffering elective mute son to talk, but in general I felt as though there wasn’t enough of a reason for Ricardo to put up with all the nonsense that the Bad Girl gave him. I’m happy to accept the Power of Love as a plot device (What self respecting Harry Potter/Doctor Who fan isn’t?) but there was definitely more tell than show in that side of things.
I do have another of Mario Varga Llosa’s books on my shelf waiting to be read, but I do feel as if the Bad Girl was lacking a certain something that it needed to make it a truly great book.