The Bad Girl A Novel

Mario Vargas Llosa; Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman




Trade Paperback

288 Pages



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Longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary AwardA New York Times Notable Book of the YearA San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book of the YearA Chicago Tribune Favorite Book of the Year Ricardo Somocurcio is in love with a bad girl. He loves her as a teenager known as “Lily” in Lima in 1950, when she arrives one summer out of the blue, claiming to be from Chile but vanishing the moment her claim is exposed as fiction. He loves her next in Paris, where she appears as the enchanting “Comrade Arlette,” an activist en route to Cuba, and becomes his lover, albeit n icy, remote one who denies knowing anything about the ily of years gone by. Whoever the bad girl turns up as—whether it’s Madame Robert Arnoux, the wife of a high-ranking UNESCO fficial, or Kuriko, the mistress of a sinister Japanese businessman—and however poorly she treats him, Ricardo is doomed to worship her.
The protean Lily, gifted liar and irresistible, maddening muse—does Ricardo ever know who she really is? The answer is as unclear as what has become of Ricardo himself, a lifelong expatriate shadowed by the sense that he is only ever drifting. In Mario Vargas Llosa’s beguiling new novel, the strange bedfellows of good and bad turn out not to be what they appear.


Praise for The Bad Girl

"Splendid, suspenseful and irresistible . . . The Bad Girl is one of those rare literary events: a remaking rather than a recycling . . . Vargas Llosa, [like Gustave Flaubert], is a master. Long one of the pre-eminent voices of postmodernism, he 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, The New York Times Book Review

"The Bad Girl . . . 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 . . . Into this paradise, during the 'fabulous summer' of 1950, comes a 14- or 15-year-old girl who calls herself Lily and claims to be Chilean. Soon enough she is found out as an impostor and expelled from 15-year-old Ricardo's privileged set, but the damage has been done: He is madly in love with her . . . Over and over again she tests him . . . He actually manages to persuade himself for a time that he does not love her, but the obsession is too powerful . . . The novel touches on the full sweep of Peruvian history from the 1950s to the Shining Path terrorism . . . Edith Grossman [has] translated The Bad Girl with her accustomed skill and grace, making this lovely novel wholly accessible to American readers."—The Washington Post

"Even before the beguiling begins to reveal its guile, reading The Bad Girl is, as they say in Vargas Llosa’s Latin America, vale la pena—worth the pain . . . The bad girl and the good boy are believable, complicated, fully realized people. At the same time they are more. Both characters are the white whale. Both are Ahab. Both are what they appear and aren’t. Both represent other things and then go beyond the representing."—Jack Fuller, Chicago Tribune

“Mario Vargas Llosa’s latest novel, The Bad Girl, is a joyful romp through a torturous relationship. The novel traces the obsession of its narrator, Ricardo Somocurcio, from the inception of the affair in Peru to its last spasm in Spain, alighting in a Paris rolling with student ferment, a London filled with peace-loving hippies, and a sterile Tokyo flashing with neon.”—Chloë Schama, The New York Sun

"The Bad Girl is about one man's persistent desire for a difficult woman. It is also, cunningly, about a broader persistence of hope for a better world . . . Vargas Llosa's novel spans decades and continents—and, in the process, with a deftness that borders on literary sleight of hand, bridges the personal and the universal . . . The Bad Girl spans 1950s Lima, 1960s revolutionary Paris, 1970s hippie London, 1980s swinging Tokyo and 1990s theatrical Spain . . . Ricardo is an unusually sympathetic narrator—modest, bookish, utterly trustworthy . . . repeatedly taken in and left 'a human wreck' . . . Vargas Llosa succeeds not only in conveying the bad girl's attraction but also in pulling us into Ricardo's cycle of hopefulness . . . Ricardo's friendships with doomed individuals—a revolutionary in Paris, a hippie artist in London, a fellow translator in Japan—and his unexpected but satisfying discovery of la niña mala's true identity further heighten the novel's considerable allure . . . Most impressively, by mirroring Ricardo and the bad girl's tug-of-war with the tug-of-war between democracy and totalitarianism that concurrently roils the world, and especially their native Peru, Vargas Llosa's novel becomes an allegory for the undauntable desire not just for love but also for freedom. Over and over again, the world dashes our hopes just as the bad girl disappoints Vargas Llosa's narrator—and yet we love it and keep hoping for the best anyway."—Heller McAlpin, San Francisco Chronicle

“In Llosa’s capable hands this recounting is moving and captivating. New characters, identities and settings are seductively and cleverly introduced as the story seamlessly travels the globe, straddling the changing world culture from the 1950s to the present and tracking the arc of Peruvian politics. Each chapter reads like its own complete narrative, yet blends impeccably into the next to form a well-paced, dynamic whole. Punctuated by the magic of chance meetings and rediscovered romance, and wading comfortably in profound queries about the nature of identity and life’s purpose, The Bad Girl is a beleaguered, bittersweet love story that evokes the question: Is there any other sort of love story?”—Christine Thomas, Miami Herald

"The Peruvian-born author's latest novel is an impressive logical extension of the seriocomic romances that are among his most appealing books.  It's the story of a grand passion, nursed for several decades by its protagonist and narrator Ricardo Somocurcio, who rises from humble beginnings in Lima to a distinguished career as a globetrotting translator for UNESCO and later success as a novelist. The object of his lustful affection is a Chilean beauty named Lily, who captures his heart (without giving herself fully to him) when they are teenagers, then complicates his life during subsequent years when he encounters her—or versions of her—in various locations. 'Lily' thus becomes an Eternal Feminine figure . . . Wherever duty sends Ricardo, Lily shows up—initially teasing him and holding him at bay, later consenting to make love with him (before fleeing again). In Paris she appears as radical revolutionary Comrade Arlette, then as Parisian diplomat's wife Madame Arnoux. In Tokyo, she's Kuriko, mistress to a sadistic Yakuza boss whose violent pleasures destroy her health. In London, she's Mrs. Richardson, this time a British diplomat's spouse. Years pass, political allegiances are embraced then abandoned, and as Lily fails physically and emotionally, Ricardo, though never freed from the erotic spell she has cast over him, manages to move and grow beyond her. Though the novel sometimes feels like a semi-autobiographical summary of the author's life, opinions and emotions, it’s energized by crisp writing, wry humor and a brilliantly deployed cast who variously enable, frustrate and mirror the experiences of the two principal characters. And it's capped by a sublime metafictional moment that creates a heart-wrenching crescendo.  A contemporary master remains at the top of his game."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Veteran Peruvian novelist Vargas Llosa's appealing, nostalgic latest opens in the summer of 1950, as Ricardo Slim Somocurcio, a rambunctious teen in the affluent Miraflores section of Lima, meets 14-year-old nymph Lily. With her younger sister, Lily is masquerading as a wealthy, liberated Chilean girl to disguise her slum origins. She is soon exposed by a jealous schoolmate and disappears, but Ricardo is smitten. There are dashes of Vertigo and Last Year at Marienbad in what follows. As an adult, Ricardo's work as a translator for UNESCO takes him over the decades everywhere from late '50s Paris to the Beatles's London to gangland Tokyo. Everywhere he goes, his bad girl shows up in dramatically different disguises, denying she was his childhood sweetheart or that they've ever met before, but ravishing him completely . . . Vargas Llosa is a master of description, and his gift for evoking sounds, smells and tastes makes each (often very graphic) encounter with Lily fresh. And with Ricardo's knack for being where the action is, whole scenes of the postwar period flare into view, as Lily's sexual perfidy eventually leads to serious trouble. The result is rich."—Publishers Weekly

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MARIO VARGAS LLOSA was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010 “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.” Peru’s foremost writer, he has been awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s most distinguished literary honor, and the Jerusalem Prize. His many works include The Feast of the Goat, The Bad Girl, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, The War of the End of the World, and The Storyteller. He lives in London.
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  • Mario Vargas Llosa; Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman

  • Mario Vargas Llosa is the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his cartography of the structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.” Peru’s foremost writer, he has been awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s most distinguished literary honor, and the Jerusalem Prize. His many works include The Feast of the Goat, The Bad Girl, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, The War of the End of the World, and The Storyteller. He lives in London.
  • Mario Vargas Llosa Morgana Vargas Llosa