What was her name, her home, her life, her past?” wonders Flaubert’s Frédéric Moreau on seeing Mme Arnoux for the first time. “Even the desire for physical possession gave way to a deeper yearning, an aching curiosity which knew no bounds.” Much the same feeling is stirred in the narrator of Mario Vargas Llosa’s new novel Travesuras de la niña mala (“The Bad Girl’s Escapades”) by the woman to whom he consecrates his life. So indefatigably unreliable and elusive will she prove, so resourceful in her self-reinventions, that Ricardo Somocurcio’s curiosity, far from being satisfied, is endlessly renewed. He will meet her again and again, over forty years, in several different cities and under a variety of names, and fall in love with her anew each and every time. She really is a bad girl, and his will be a sentimental education one wouldn’t wish on anybody, yet we can hardly imagine that Ricardo would have had it any other way. And since, for narratives as for mistresses, there are clear advantages in unpredictability, the result is a wonderfully seductive and enthralling novel.
more from the TLS here.