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Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
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A-The Bad GirlRicardo is a good boy who falls hopelessly in love with a bad girl. The story of Ricardo's enduring desire for "Lily," the mysterious and sensual girl he meets at 15, sets Madame Bovary's tragic tale of thwarted male love and female independence in a dizzying array of politically turbulent countries from the 1960s through the 1980s. Beginning in the author's native Peru and continuing on to Paris, Cuba, and Japan, The Bad Girl follows Ricardo's masochistic, on-again/off-again love affair with a woman who changes her name and identity for each new lover she takes and each social rung she climbs. Then, this irresistibly smart and enthralling novel slowly deconstructs the very cliches about character and identity it at first seems to embrace.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 288 pages. $25. ISBN: 0374182434

Chicago Tribune 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Most importantly, the bad girl and the good boy are believable, complicated, fully realized people. ... Both represent other things and then go beyond the representing. ... This is a marvelous novel." Jack Fuller

Miami Herald 4.5 of 5 Stars
"This is the brilliance of Llosa's stunning story, for just when the depiction of bad girl as villain and Ricardo as hero seems fixed, Llosa erodes and reverses your perceptions. ... Each chapter reads like its own complete narrative, yet blends impeccably into the next to form a well-paced, dynamic whole." Christine Thomas

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"The Bad Girl is one of those rare literary events: a remaking rather than a recycling. ... Long one of the pre-eminent voices of postmodernism, [Vargas Llosa] has transformed a revolutionary work of Western literature into a vibrant, contemporary love story that explores the mores of the urban 1960s-and '70s and '80s-just as Madame Bovary did the provincial life of the 1830s." Kathryn Harrison

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Llosa writes an unabashed love story and makes no apologies for it. ... This feels like a novel of Llosa's sentimental old age (he's 71), but it's written with a passion and energy that delivers." Pete Warzel

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Mario Vargas Llosa's perversely charming new novel isn't among his major books . . . but it is irresistibly entertaining and, like all of its author's work, formidably smart. ... It also obviously was written out of a deep nostalgia for the author's lost youth and for the Lima in which he then lived. He evokes it beautifully." Jonathan Yardley

Critical Summary

No one can quite understand why Mario Vargas Llosa hasn't yet won the Nobel Prize in Literature. As The Bad Girl proves, Vargas Llosa can create something new and exciting even out of a well-worn plot and stock characters. Though this isn't one of his major works (see our profile of Vargas Llosa in Issue No. 15, March/April 2005), critics love that this novel paints a panoramic history of four decades of South American and European life, continually challenges readers' expectations, and questions the very nature of identity, "goodness," and "badness." But for all its thoughtful tackling of complex themes, The Bad Girl is certainly not all seriousness; as the Washington Post declares, "Obviously, the novel was written for the sheer fun of it-the fun for Vargas Llosa in writing it, the fun for us in reading it."