Magazine article The Spectator

Smitten for Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Smitten for Life

Article excerpt

THE BAD GIRL by Mario Vargas Llosa Faber, £16.99, pp. 276, ISBN 9780571239337 £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Ricardo Somocurcio, the narrator of The Bad Girl, is an unambitious man whose sole wish, ever since his childhood in Peru, has been to live in Paris. He studied hard at school and, on arriving in Paris after university, learns languages and soon makes enough money from working as a freelance interpreter to stay in his chosen home. He has a mild concern that he is simply drifting, but in fact his lack of aspirations is nothing worse than the result of being a balanced, civilised individual, happy if he has a reasonable income and enough time to enjoy reading and socialising.

However, Ricardo's existence is never as quiet as it should be, thanks to the 'bad girl'. She (we discover her name only towards the end) is a quirkily beautiful, dissembling, callous woman who enters Ricardo's life when she appears in his town in her early teens, passing herself off as Chilean and well-to-do (she is neither:

she is Peruvian and poor). The local girls are jealous of her wild dancing, but the teenaged Ricardo is smitten; he becomes her almost-boyfriend, hanging around with her but never receiving a true commitment.

They lose touch, but a decade later she shows up in Paris with a new identity: she is now a revolutionary activist, codenamed 'Comrade Arlette'; in reality she is nonpolitical, and merely joined the communist cause so that she could travel. She and Ricardo restart something approximating a relationship, but for 30 more years she disappears whenever a rich man comes along, only for the two to meet again, with the bad girl invariably sporting a new name and a new life: she is Madame Arnoux, married to a Parisian diplomat, then Mrs Richardson, the wife of a Suffolk millionaire, and then Kuriko, the mistress of a sinister Japanese crook. …

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