By Carolyn Williams
“The Bad Girl” is first and foremost a shameless love story. Ricardo Somocurcio, the story’s narrator and protagonist, falls in love as a teenager in his childhood home of Miraflores, an upscale district of Lima, Peru. The object of his affection is a young Chilean named Lily, recently arrived on the scene, and before Ricardo can convince her to go steady, she vanishes from his life.
Years later, Ricardo finds himself a young expatriate in France, working as a translator for UNESCO, focusing all his energies on making his youthful ambition of a quiet life in Paris a reality. Suddenly the arrival of Comrade Arlette, a Peruvian revolutionary stopping over briefly in Paris before moving on to Cuba for further training, turns Ricardo’s humble world upside down. Although she denies it, Comrade Arlette is Lily, the purported Chilean of Ricardo’s youth. Again, Ricardo declares his love, this time for the unwilling revolutionary, and after favoring him with a few dates, she inevitably flits out of his life again.
From then on, Ricardo is cursed to love no one but the bad girl, a woman of irresistible charm and beauty, whose true identity remains shrouded in a complex web of lies and deceptions. Each time she meets him, she has reincarnated herself, capitalizing on rich men to catapult herself higher into society, and only when she is in between wealthy patrons does she turn to Ricardo, her fellow compatriot, lover and the single constant which transcends her many lives. At times Ricardo regards her with contempt and hatred, but in his heart he knows he will never escape his love for the bad girl.
Each chapter of “The Bad Girl” acts as a separate story. They follow a sort of pattern, in which Ricardo is living a normal life, seeing other women, interacting with friends, when the bad girl makes a sudden, shocking reappearance. Each time he encounters her, an exasperated Ricardo finds his love has increased, and for forty years, the pair play a game of cat and mouse across several continents.
“The Bad Girl” can be compared to Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” in that the bad girl can be called a cheekier, modernized version of Emma, and Ricardo, the good boy, as the bad girl always called him, is comparable to Charles Bovary, Emma’s simple, trusting husband. In spite of Emma’s philandering and other outrageous behavior, Charles always welcomes her back with open arms, as does Ricardo, until their bad girls die.
Mario Vargas Llosa, one of Latin America’s foremost writers, is responsible for having written a large body of work and his efforts have recently been rewarded: he is the 2010 Nobel Prize laureate for literature. The Peruvian author, politician, journalist and essayist is best known for such works as “The Time of the Hero,” “The Green House” and “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.” He is also notorious for his feud with Colombian writer and fellow Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The two have maintained a resolute silence for more than 30 years, since Vargas Llosa famously punched Garcia Marquez in the face in Mexico City, according to www.kirjasto.sci.fi. The reason behind the schism has never been revealed. “The Bad Girl” is Vargas Llosa’s latest work.