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Women Readers and THE BAD GIRL

THE BAD GIRLI’ve had a rollicking good time with Mario Vargas Llosa’s new novel, The Bad Girl. There’s something about this spirited, beautiful life-wrecker (whatever her real name is) with her spellbinding sexiness and heart of ice and the poor doomed narrator who’s so hopelessly in love with her that strikes a chord of recognition in me. I know the attraction here. This sexy, literate novel frequently causes me to erupt into laughter remembering my own follies.

But how will women take to the bad girl?

A book club could have a really good time with this one. First of all, it’s an opportunity to encounter one of the major living writers of our time in a new novel that’s just plain fun to read. Vargas Llosa’s most famous novels can be politically dense and intimidating, except for maybe Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter or Who Killed Palomino Molero? His new book is so darn entertaining it’s going to make him many new fans. He’s been called the poor man’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and that’s unfair. He has his own strengths, and readers will certainly care a lot more about the bad girl and the good boy than they have cared about any character in a novel by Garcia Marquez.

Then there’s the plot, which zips along, lunging unexpectedly from country to country – France, Cuba, Japan – and leaping forward in years. The characters are so well drawn they’re easy to remember (the fat cook revolutionary, the adopted Vietnamese boy who won’t speak, the old breakwater-builder who communes with the ocean). And then there are the sex scenes, appropriately hot and refreshingly real.

Those are the side dishes. The main course, the primary discussion topic, is the bad girl. What a topic she is. What a character. She’ll divide the room. Assuming most clubs are comprised of mature women, I suspect the bad girl will meet with a much more critical response than she gets from Ricardo Somocurcio, the hapless “good boy” in love with her, or from her creator Vargas Llosa, or from any male reader, or from me. But then comes the second half of the book, and the reader’s whole sense of her as a human being deepens. As women readers understand more and more of the reasons behind her behavior, I think many will find themselves opening up their hearts to her. And yet some will suspect her of lying and opportunism right up to the end.

Characters like the bad girl are ideal for book club discussion because they’re aggressive, offensive rule-breakers who are still multi-faceted enough to resist easy moral judgments. Book discussions thrive on evaluating a complex character’s behavior. Was a particular action genuine or contrived, charitable or self-serving? The more room there is for alternate viewpoints, the richer the conversation.



About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

1 Comment on "Women Readers and THE BAD GIRL"

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  1.' Daniel says:

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