Let’s be honest.

It’s been a while since I’ve written. Blame it on the exam, blame it on spring fever. Blame it on a recent trip to the ACLA. At the end of the day, though, I don’t think I’ve been writing much because it’s all been so… polite. So. I’m going to try something new: new topics, new approaches.

Like this: I did, in fact, read books that I DIDN’T like for my first exam. Like Mario Vargas Llosa’s Travesuras de la niña mala. Kathryn Harrison, in her review of the book (in Edith Grossman‘s translation) for The New York Times, lucidly observes the influence of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary on the novel of a man she deems “one of the preeminent voices of postmodernism.” I would certainly not argue that it is an interesting take on the perennial conflict between the desires of a free-spirited woman and the expectations of society. But that is about as far as our shared reading goes.

There is a major point of divergence between Flaubert’s and Vargas Llosa’s texts: instead of committing suicide as Emma Bovary does, the Bad Girl is ravaged by cancer of… yes, the breasts and reproductive organs, all of which are removed (barbarically, it seems) by the end of the narrative. Ahem. Really? It’s not even so much the prurience or the misogyny of the gesture that bother me, although they do bother me. What gets me is the complete and total lack of subtlety in the gesture. Her sexuality existed outside the norms of society, did it? It was her downfall, you say? Well.

I get it. Instead of producing a life in compliance with normative sexual practices, the Bad Girl produces a text through her adoring Good Boy, who is finally able to create an Original Work in the telling of her story. The work is not without its value, however self-evident its metaphors may be. But there is an undercurrent of provincialism to the narrative that runs contrary to its stated intention. Not to mention that Vargas Llosa did little to win me over with the following, taken from an earlier interview with the Times:

Ricardo is a translator, which is a reflection of his temperament. He’s an intermediary. He has not much personality, and in his life there is only one adventure: the bad girl. Without her, his life is very mediocre, curtailed, without much horizon.

Uh-huh. I’m sure Edith Grossman loved hearing that after putting however many months into translating your book. But I really shouldn’t speculate, so I’ll give Idra Novey the last word on the matter (for now).


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