The Bad Girl

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3)

Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel The Bad Girl, a first-person narrative, recounts a love affair that alternates between periods of ecstacy and deep despair for the narrator. The novel is divided into three parts, a structure reminiscent of a play. The first chapter, “The Chilean Girls,” introduces the two main characters, Ricardo Somocurcio (the good boy) and Lily, the Chilean Girl (the bad girl), who will become his lifelong love and obsession. Chapters 2 through 6 recount the details of their love affair, which is a series of abandonments and reconciliations. The final chapter, “Marcella in Lavapiés,” concludes the love affair with the death of the bad girl.

The novel can also be viewed as three stories in one. Vargas Llosa creates this impression by making no transition from chapter 1 to 2, as well as chapter 6 to 7. Chapter 1 ends with the narrator stating that the summer of the Chilean girls was the most fabulous one he ever experienced. Chapter 2 begins with an account of his waiting outside a Mexican restaurant in Paris for a handout of food. Chapter 6, still set in Paris, ends with the bad girl giving money to a tramp in appreciation of his having prevented Ricardo from committing suicide and with the happy couple embracing. Chapter 7 begins with a description of the Lavapiés neighborhood in Madrid and reveals that the narrator is living there. However, chapters 1 and 7 remain an integral part of the larger novel, as the Chilean girl reappears in chapter 2 through 6, disappears for a time in chapter 7, and then reappears.

The novel begins in the summer of 1950 in Lima, Peru, where the teenage Ricardo is a member of the affluent Miraflores social group. Two mysterious “Chilean” sisters suddenly appear at the social functions, only to be proven imposters before the end of the summer. Humiliated by their exposure as poor Peruvians, the girls disappear and are soon forgotten by the Miraflores crowd, except for Ricardo, who always remembers the mysterious, beautiful girl named Lily.

The story then jumps to Paris in the 1960’s. Here, Ricardo fortuitously encounters Lily again. Using chance and coincidence, Vargas Llosa unfolds their love story. Although this technique could easily be seen as unrealistic manipulation of the novel, it impresses the reader as entirely believable, since Vargas Llosa has imbued his tale with a sense of destiny. Ricardo and Lily are fated to be together, so naturally their lives will play out such that they are repeatedly brought together: in Paris, in England, in Japan, again in Paris, and finally in Spain.

Ricardo has gone to live in Paris, fulfilling the one ambition of his life. There, he meets Paúl Escobar, a Peruvian communist involved in organizing a revolution to liberate Peru after the fashion of the Cuban Revolution. Helping Paúl transport and house the new recruits who are on their way to Cuba via Paris for guerrilla training, Ricardo meets Comrade Arlette, who is in fact the “Chilean” girl. A period of ecstatic happiness follows for Ricardo when Comrade Arlette moves into his room, becomes his lover, and is willing to forsake the revolutionary cause and live with him in Paris. Unfortunately, it is impossible to obtain her release from her commitment to go to Cuba. Thus, the bad girl, promising to return in three months, again disappears from Ricardo’s life. Before long, Paúl informs Ricardo that Comrade Arlette has become the mistress of Comandante Chacón. Crushed and depressed, Ricardo loses himself in his work as an interpreter at UNESCO and in a fanatical study of Russian.

Then, one day in the lobby of UNESCO, he encounters the bad girl, who is now the elegant Mme Arnoux and addresses him as “good boy.” Their relationship resumes, and Ricardo again enjoys a period of ecstatic happiness. Then, upon returning from an interpreting assignment in Vienna, he is unable to contact the bad girl. Soon he learns from her husband that she has disappeared, along with all the funds of his Swiss bank account. Ricardo, emotionally overwrought and depressed, once again buries himself in work.

Toward the end of the 1960’s, Ricardo’s work takes him to England, where he meets an old school friend, Juan Barreto. Barreto has a very lucrative career painting the racehorses of affluent owners. Looking at photos of Barreto and his patrons, Ricardo sees a woman who resembles the bad girl. Barreto tells him she is Mrs....

(The entire section is 1818 words.)

The Bad Girl Bibliography

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3)

Booklist 104, no. 4 (October 15, 2007): 4.

Kirkus Reviews 75, no. 18 (September 15, 2007): 954.

The New York Times Book Review 157 (October 14, 2007): 1-9.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 28, 2007, p. M1.

Times Literary Supplement, August 18, 2006, p. 23.