Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel “The Bad Girl” is a masterpiece. Period. It is not only a book on unfulfilled love but much more than that. He tells us of the third world diaspora where people have lost their identity to a great extent. They move around the world in search of a better life than what is afforded to them in their own countries but are unable to find it. They lay in the comfort of a better salary, no doubt, but are nameless figures that belong to no country in particular. And this is where the novel triumphs, scoring well above its primary theme of unrequited love.

Now imagine a scenario where the love of your life is a flawless beauty who is immensely attractive as well. And before I forget it, she is bad to the bone as well. Now find yourself under her spell your entire life with no place to go and no one else to worship. Seems kind of a bad situation, doesn’t it? This is exactly the predicament of Ricardo Somocurcio, a Peruvian youth who falls under the spell of ‘the Bad Girl’ the first time he lays his eyes on her. His first tryst with her occurs when he is but a teenager when she arrives, from Chile, and entrances him with her risqué dance moves and hips that sway dangerously, unlike any other girl he has ever seen. Little does he know that he has met his doom. Over the next four decades, ‘the Bad Girl’ will continue to enter his life as and when she chooses and wreak havoc. He spends everything on her, from money to his time, and most of all his entire existence. She comes into his life periodically, makes a mockery of everything he does for her and then leaves him dangling and alone in the wind, only to make an appearance again when he seems to have come out of her spell.
Mario Vargas Llosa has combined the elements of love and tragedy very well, for if true love exists can tragedy be far behind? We see the world through Ricardo’s eyes and heart and begin to feel a certain sort of sympathy for him when he demolishes his world every time he comes in contact with ‘the Bad Girl’. We admonish him for being weak and folding under the spell of the girl but in our hearts, we reserve a little sympathy for him. Something we cannot talk about with the world for these things are left better for stories in novels, certainly, right? We feel a certain sort of camaraderie for the Peruvian boy who inspite of everything, manages to make an honest living for himself and is doing well in all the other aspects, except for dealing with ‘the Bad Girl.’ Llosa’s language is simple and haunting and I doubt, I will find another book soon which would combine the poetic beauty of his language along with the descriptions he gives us of ‘the Bad Girl’s’ antics.
Towards the end of the book, Ricardo quotes from the Apollinaire, “La joie venait toujores après le peine?” as the bad girl leaves him for the umpteenth time. Does joy always follow pain? This is a resounding statement to think about true love and ponder because the only answer I can come up with is a stoic no. It’s standing there, hands folded, staring at you from the doorway, blocking your path and letting you know that it’s here to stay. And even though we might say that we hate the pain, the sadness, sometimes, it is all we live for.