Wednesday, 20 January 2010
The Bad Girl by Mario Vargo Llosa
So starting at the beginning, I'll try and say what this book actually is. Ricardo is Peruvian, and as a teenager he falls totally in love with Lily, a Chilean girl living in Peru, and although she seems to feel the same, she will never commit to him, and following an embarrassing incident, disappears totally from his life. Following this, Ricardo works hard to achieve his only real ambition in life, which is to live in Paris. He lives frugally, and works sporadically as a translator, and later an interpreter, but the only real friendship he develops is with Paul, a man who runs a restaurant, but whose main interest is the political rebellion taking place in Peru. This is the turning point, for this is when he meets a woman calling herself Comrade Arlette, immediately realises she is his teenage sweetheart, falls in love all over again and throws his heart and soul into getting her out of the revolutionary movement she has got herself involved in. She promises to return to Paris as soon as she is able, and he waits. But when she does return, she is married to a relatively well off Frenchman, and he is devastated.
This pattern repeats itself throughout the book, with each long chapter focusing on a different period in Ricardo's life, with Lily, who Ricardo terms 'the bad girl' showing up, each time with a different name and a different identity. She lets him keep falling in love with her, help her escape whatever crisis she has got herself into, and then leaves to find a different life. The bad girl is characterised as a shallow, materialistic woman, who is really only out to make a nice, easy life for herself, and will trample over anyone to get what she wants. Although, it is difficult to say she is the same person each time Ricardo meets her. She re-invents herself so much that she is almost a different person each time. As readers, we don't feel we know her as we see her life through Ricardo's eyes, and he only ever knows her as her current alias, never as what she really is. The end does clear some of this up, and the explanation of who she is and why she behaves the way she does helps understand her, and softens the fairly harsh image of her portrayed throughout the book.
I liked this book. As well as the relationship between 'Lily' and Ricardo, the descriptions of the places they find themselves in, particularly the cultural and political situations are interesting and informative. The only thing I'm struggling with is coming to a decision about what I think about Ricardo. On one hand I want to say he's a fool for keep taking her back, and letting her manipulate him, but on the other hand, his loyalty is admirable and it is interesting to see how he does harden against her, and how gradually the story moves from him chasing her, to her searching him out. Again the end does shed some light on his character, but I still remain ambiguous about his credibility.