Friday, November 16, 2007


Later today the Los Angeles Times Book Review section for Sunday will be posted and a version of my review of THE BAD GIRL, the new novel by Mario Vargas Llosa will be there.

Readers might be interested in my version of the review before it had to be fitted into the available space on the printed page. I will provide the opening and the final paragraphs. Both versions will be published when my collected works are published in heaven to echo Jack Kerouac

There is nothing wrong with the Los Angeles Times version of the review. It reflects the careful work of the Deputy Editor Nick Owchar, former student of both Christopher Ricks and Geoffrey Hill. The editor of the Book Review David Ulin continues to maintain the Los Angeles Times Book Review as the only genuine alternative to the New York Times Book Review. Many readers will remember how Steve Wasserman actually put the Los Angeles Times Book Review into the center of what passes for thinking in the world of book reviewing. Ulin, Owchar and the other editors continue that difficult work.

THE BAD GIRL by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Boy meets girl. Girl disappears. Boy meets the same girl again and again through all the remaining years of their lives that restlessly travel the world from Peru, to France, to England, to Japan, and finally ending in Spain. While such a story is easily capable of dragging the reader through a long sentimental swim in a sea of bathos, Mario Vargas Llosa by close attention to the historical and political detail of the years from 1950 to the last decade of the Twentieth Century has provided a compelling hypnotic updating of the classic SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION and at th same time has created through his narrator the translator Ricardo Somocurico and the genuinely mysterious and ever tantalizing "Bad Girl" characters who will possibly stock out imaginations when it comes to describing this most awful and exciting moment of recent history much as does Flaubert's novel provide a window in to mid-Nineteenth Century France

But THE BAD GIRL is first and foremost the story of this love or rather of Ricardo's lifelong love for Lily and of course that can touch a nerve for many people. I only have to say the name MELINDA and I have replaced Ricardo in the novel much as when I read SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION I became Frederick in his hopeless life long attachment to Madame Arnoux. I do not know if this is an exclusively male thing but all suspension of disbelief happened once I understand the dilemma of Ricardo. How a woman might read this novel I do not know and can not know.

It is unlikely that THE BAD GIRL will be re-read by many people. It is, and should be read, as they say, because it is a compelling mixing of the public and the private, the intimate with a sure understanding of how the world really works but it is an entertainment: it does not become a great mountain to which the reader must return again and again-- as with Cortazar's HOPSCOTCH, Lezama Lima's PARADISO or A BRIEF LIFE by Juan Carlos Onetti.


As I was re-reading the above paragraphs and in particular the final paragraph it could possibly be read as the insertion of a dagger into the heart of the book since people are always looking for reasons to avoid reading. I might be guilty of a venial sin of over-scrupulosity but I am happy to report at St Marks Bookshop it is faced out and seems to be selling... I cannot help but be jealous of people who have launched themselves into reading THE BAD GIRL. They have begun to create a constant faithful memory of a happy time well spent.