In Praise of the Stepmother by Mario Vargas Llosa

TitleIn Praise of the Stepmother
Author: Mario Vargas Llosa
Genre: fiction (erotica)
ISBN: 0374175837
Length: 149 pages
Published: 1988 (in Spanish, 1990 in English)
Source: public library
Rating: 4/5
Resolutions/Challenges: Further Exploration Resolution

Reason for Reading: I was looking for some books set in South America for my Further Exploration Resolution. And I found Mario Vargas Llosa, Peruvian author. It seemed to me like Vargas Llosa might be similar to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in the themes and style of writing. And, since I LOVED Memories of My Melancholy Whores and could stand Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (a bit bland), thought why not try more of that sort of book.

Summary (from book jacket):

The mysterious nature of happiness and, above all, the corrupting power of innocence are the themes that underlie these pages. With meticulous observation and the seductive skill of a great storyteller, Vargas Llosa lures the reader into the shadow of perversion that, little by little, darkens the extraordinary contentment and harmony of his characters. The constellation is small: the sensual stepmother, Dona Lucrecia; Don Rigoberto, the attentive father and husband; and Alfonso, his prepubescent son. In counterpoint to this story are the richly elaborate fantasies embodied in paintings by Jordaens, Boucher, Titian, Bacon, Szyszlo, and Fra Angelico.

Vargas Llosa here demonstrates his conviction that eroticism in literature should arise spontaneously, using the forces in the text, that it should not be fabricated. He indulges, too, his preference for the unexpected, the situation that springs up in the middle of the page to surprise and delight. And in meeting the demands of the erotic novel, Vargas Llosa has done nothing to dim for an instant the fine poetic polish of his writing. This is a classic of eroticism.

My Thoughts: Erotic novels aren’t something that I usually read. That’s not because I steer away from them, but just because other sorts of stories appeal more to me. Of the little erotica I’ve read, this fits right in. It’s no better than the others, but obviously still something interesting. In this book, Dona Lucrecia and her stepson, Alfonso, begin an affair. While the two are not related by blood, I’d still consider this incest. And that just puts a whole new twist to the story.

One thing that got me thinking the whole time I read is: How old is Alfonso? From what he is apparently able to do, he must be of a certain age. But the innocence he displays makes him seem very young. What can explain this all? I think he isn’t as innocent as he seems. And that he was really just trying to get rid of Dona Lucrecia. Assuming he’d have to be at least ten to do what he does physically, I think that’d be old enough to know better than to think there is nothing wrong with a sexual relationship with a stepparent. (That really seems like a run-on sentence, I think!) Anyways…I know that maybe the time for the story wasn’t as recent and that children weren’t so aware of sexual things as they are today (23 years after the book was published). But that is very naive, if a truthful innocence it was.

As I mentioned above as a reason for my reading this book, I thought this would be similar to what I’ve read of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And I found the style was fairly similar. Both writers have a very lyrical way of writing. It’s just very soothing to read. (Except much of chapter six in this book, which focused quite a lot on excrement 😦 ) These books make me wish I knew Spanish. If I find the books so beautifully translated into English, just think of how beautiful it would sound/read in Spanish! I already think Spanish is a very romantic sounding language.

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