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The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa- Story of a not-so-happily-ever-after

29th June, 2016

Book Review : The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa

Once upon a time a good boy met a bad girl. He fell madly in love with her. And she, not in the least bit. The bad girl crosses paths with the boy many times, in different circumstances and under different names. And how does it all end? Is there a happily ever after, for both or at least for one?


Ricardo, the Peruvian narrator, meets the Chilean girl (who lies about being from Chile) as an adolescent in his hometown of Miraflores, Peru. He falls in love with her, but she eludes him. Later on they meet again, but she is now Comrade Arlette, a Communist revolutionary bound for Cuba. And she says she knows nothing about Chile or Miraflores, which sends Ricardo wondering if his mind is playing tricks on him.

And thus begins the story – the bad girl morphing from guerilla fighter, to kept woman of a Parisian diplomat, to English society lady, to a Japanese gangster’s mistress to a middle class housewife and so on. The novel teases the reader with a challenge to define the woman who is “the bad girl”.


I really enjoyed this book. And it was an emotional read for me. I loved the way the book reads as if Ricardo is talking to the reader as a friend, about the bad girl.


Ricardo’s meetings with her take us from Peru in the 1950s to Paris in the early 1960s and to London in the late 1960s. The story ends in the 1980s in Madrid. During this period we get an insightful look into the political turmoil in the different countries.


The girl in this book—Lily, Arlette, Madame Arnoux, Mrs. Richardson, and so on, is nasty because she has an incessant hunger to satisfy her desires and she stops at nothing lesser. The girl allows herself to be with Ricardo so long as to fuel his obsession and then sets him on a chase to locate her again.

However, in spite of the repetition of this routine the book has a charming suspense that keeps the reader occupied throughout. The bad girl captures your interest because she is enviable and doesn’t deny herself the pleasures she aims at. Of course most of the consequences are borne by the narrator, with whom we rest our sympathies.

Book Review : The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa


Here is a book that has characters from different nationalities seamlessly weaved into the narrative. It interesting to note that there are no Americans in the story, whether intentional or not. Then again, considering the geographical set up of the story, it seems to be a perfect cast.


This book is more of a love story, let’s say story of love, because the love is unrequited. However in the backdrop, Llosa paints a poignant picture of the political situation in Peru and the other places the narrator visits. The novel hints at the beginnings of globalization and lack of steadfast patriotism in a narrator whose sole ambition in life is to work and stay at Paris.

However, there are many who severely criticize Llosa as not being true to the actual political situation at hand because the unrest of 1968 was omitted even though the novel is set in Paris and there are a few mismatches in the period of political events happening in the book. I didn’t mind these as I am not well versed in the political situations then.

Book Review : The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa


The Bad Girl doesn’t lie. She never says that she will be a devoted lover. But her opportunistic entry into the narrator’s life makes you tremble as a reader.  Throughout the book I kept asking myself the question why Ricardo doesn’t move on, why he doesn’t stop himself from getting entangled in the ‘bad girl’s snare’.


The narrator works as a translator. So in a way he swims in literary worlds he isn’t accustomed to. He feels completely at home in Paris, though not born in France. And then there is the question of the identity of the bad girl, whether she is a picture created by a mad lover’s obsession or whether she has a true self beneath the artifice. 

Book Review : The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa


It is said that Llosa modelled the bad girl after Emma Bovary by Flaubert. Since I have not read Madame Bovary yet, I cannot validate the claim. However I did find her similar to Daisy of The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald, though if we compare both, Daisy feels like an angel.


I am not sure whether I like the ending. This is because I became too emotionally attached to Ricardo and wished there was some way I could scream out to him;  shake his shoulders and shout in his ears to stay away from the object of his obsession. I felt helpless as a reader and sympathetic to Ricardo’s plight.

Good novel, bad girl. Still undecided about the adjective for the boy. Would definitely recommend the read to chase down the bad girl.

Title : The Bad Girl
Author : Mario Vargas Llosa (Translated by Edith Grossman)
Publisher : Faber & Faber
Published : 2008 (Originally in 2006)
Language : English (Translated from Spanish)
Pages : 403
Rating : 4/5

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Have you read The Bad Girl? Did you sympathize with Ricardo or felt admiration for the depth of the bad girl’s powers?

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The Bad Girl

About the Author

Mario Vargas Llosa, is a Peruvian writer, politician, journalist, essayist, college professor, and recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. Vargas Llosa is one of Latin America’s most significant novelists and essayists. Many of Vargas Llosa’s works are influenced by the writer’s perception of Peruvian society and his own experiences as a native Peruvian. He has always been politically active. Other famous works include The Time of the Hero, The Green House and The Feast of the Goat.

This Post Has 28 Comments
  1. This book looks so intriguing! I also haven’t read Madame Bovary, but maybe I should add both of these books to my to-read list. Maybe we can read Madame Bovary together!

    1. That would be great Jessica. I dont have a copy of Madame Bovary so if I do get a copy I will let you know. Meanwhile if you want to start reading go ahead because I dont think I would be buying the book anytime soon. Even I want to compare both the books. It is said that Llosa was in awe of Emma Bovary.

  2. Ohhh I really wonder about this book. Would I sympathize with Richardo or just be annoyed that he keeps falling for her? I do like the idea of a book blending a love story with something of a commentary on the political status of the settings the characters are in.

    1. This was such a difficult read for me. Because I couldnt see why he would be attracted to the girl, what makes him pine for he so. I felt like a mother reading about her teenage son in love. It makes no sense. But he is happy only with her. Kind of like a hopeless case

  3. Oh, this is a book in translation! Wonderful. What fascinating characters Ricardo and the bad girl are. Especially the bad girl. I would use her name, but I’m not sure which name to use! I know I would like her as a character study, but not as a person I’d like to meet. There’s too much drama surrounding her life, and she creates much of it herself, it seems! I’m glad I don’t know anyone like her, but there’s something enviable about a person who lives her life to the fullest and gets what she wants.

    1. It is an excellent read. Especially since you cant figure out why he is so obsessed with the girl. And all she does is betray him and hurt him. The novel does have a name that her father calls her (revealed to the end of the novel) but I forget the name now. The story is really mysterious since the first time he meets her after years, she is a totally different person with a different history. And while he is 100pct sure thats his old flame while she denies being anything other than the name she currently calls herself.

      I am glad I don’t know such a person. Imagine being a friend with someone whose actions you cannot justify at all. Towards the end I did feel like shaking Ricardo and screaming “Move on”.

  4. Interesting. I do love “magical realism” (which is not so magical as realistic when one knows Latin America). I adore García marquez, like Isabel Allende, but I have never been able to get “into” Vargas Llosa. I tried twice or “thrice”. To no avail. Something in his style. 🙂
    Thank you for the insight.

    1. Magical realism is one of my favourite genres. I love it. Garcia is a favourite. I recently read Allende- Eva Luna and loved the read. Llosa is nothing like them I agree. I have trued a book by his, I forget the name -Paradise something, and left it unread. However Bad girl was easier to get into.

  5. I haven’t read this, but I did pick up one of Llosa’s books last week – The Discreet Hero (which I’m very much looking forward to reading). What did you think of his writing?

    1. I havent read many of Llosa’s works. So can’t comment about the writing. I remember picking a book by him and being unable to get into it. The name was Paradise something. I forget the exact title. However The Bad Girl was a very easy and thrilling read for me. I will look out for your review. 🙂 Hope it would be an interesting book

  6. Ohh great review, I really like villains at times, it’s a nice change from all the other bookish protagonists. Well, nice probably isn’t the right word since they’re villains, but, well, haha you get what I mean. Plus, yay for magical realism! <3

    1. Hi Marie. This is a great book. The writing and pace is excellent and so is the characterisation of the bad girl. This is normal literary fiction and there is no magical realism in this one. Though after reading this book I did crave for one with magical realism or fantasy.

  7. I haven’t read any his works though I’ve seen this everywhere! I’m note sure about reading more dudes writing about women, but I love that the book spans so many countries and I need to read more LatinAm lit 🙂

    1. It is a great read. SO many people have been telling me here and on Insta that they found Llosa very difficult to get into. Well, this book might be good start if that is true. It is a very easy read. And a good one too

  8. I’ve never heard of this book before but it sounds like a great read. I’m especially intrigued by the comparisons of the ‘bad girl’ to Emma Bovary and Daisy Buchanan. May have to give this one a shot. Great review!

    1. Thank you. I hope you enjoy the book when you read it. Yes, it is intriguing that Llosa modelled the girl after being obsessed with Madame Bovary. I have not read M Bovary yet. It would have been nice to compare both.

  9. I’m always looking for more books to read to practice my Spanish. I’ll add this one to my list. I have read ‘La fiesta del chivo’ (The Feast of the Goat) by Vargas Llosa (it was recommended by a friend of mine from Peru). It was well written but very brutal. Have you read that one? ‘The Bad Girl’ sounds like a very different story — hopefully not as brutal!

    1. I have heard a lot about that book. But havent picked it up. I think Bad girl is in a different style. Because many friends told me that they find Llosa very difficult to get into. I have once DNFed a Llosa. But this one was surprisingly easy

  10. I’ve had a copy of this on my shelf for five years, but haven’t gotten around to it. It’s survived multiple culls, not sure it’ll survive the next, but if it does I’ll have to bump it up on my list.

    1. It is a good story. And an easy read too. We are chasing the bad girl all along with Ricardo. Though at times I wanted to scream out to him and ask him to stop following her around

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