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Vargas Llosa's most enjoyable novel since his Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1982)--with which it shares the motif, used elsewhere in his fiction, of a teenager's romantic fixation on his beautiful stepmother. It's set in Lima, where middle-aged insurance executive Don Rigoberto's happy marriage to his luscious young second wife Lucrecia (amusingly pet-named "Lucre") has been temporarily rocked by Lucrecia's indiscretion with her handsome stepson Alfonso ("Fonchito"), a politely deferential "little pagan god" whose ingenuous questions about male-female interrelationships arouse the distraught Lucrecia beyond boiling point. Simultaneously, Don Rigoberto fills his "notebooks" with impassioned sexual arcana and fantasizing: arguments with a militant "feminist sect"; "diatribes" against "Rotarians," who repress sexual energies, and "Sportsmen," who misspend them; and the like. The line between reality and invention is repeatedly blurred, as Vargas Llosa juxtaposes such entries with accounts of Lucrecia's efforts to resist Fonchito and of her previous submissions to Don Rigoberto's erotic importunings (persuading her, for example, to "enact" the subjects of famous infamous paintings, and--in a dazzling illustration of what a great writer can do with an extended dirty joke--to undertake, then describe a "chaste" vacation enjoyed with a former lover). If the Marquis de Sade had had a sense of humor, he might have anticipated such delights as this novel's urbane fetishism ("A Tiny Foot"), appreciations of love in unexpected places (a "formidable sexual encounter" between mating spiders), and uproarious deadpan dialogue ("I went off last night."/"Where to, stepmama?"). It's all so outrageously entertaining that one must concentrate scrupulously to notice how brilliantly Vargas Llosa uses Don Rigoberto's notebooks to comment on a daunting variety of general cultural as well as sexual topics. An Anatomy of Eros unlike any other fiction. Its author may need a cold shower; all the reader needs is the time and place (preferably bed) to sample its very considerable pleasures.
Pub Date: May 28th, 1998
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998