The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto

Mario Vargas Llosa faber & faber translated by Edith Grossman

With characters first introduced to us in the novel "In Praise of the Stepmother," Vargas Llosa takes us on an expedition through the mind of Don Rigoberto, by day an insurance executive, by night a pornographer and sexual enthusiast. As his confessor tells him at one stage;"You want to be a freak, Rigoberto."

As this is a book were there are no clear borders between fact and fantasy it is worth relating the central idea of In Praise... His second wife, Lucrecia and his young son Alphonso have a sexual relation of sorts and Llosa leads us to ask who is seducing who? This results in the separation of Don Rigoberto and Lucrecia and the story of The Notebooks... is the attempt of both to deal with the separation. While Don Rigoberto fills his notebooks with memories, fantasies and unsent letters, Alphonso decides on a course of action to win back the love of Lucrecia.

"They drank their tea in silence. Dona Lucrecia, still imbued with reminiscences of her life with Don Rigoberto, grieved over everything that had happened. The break could not be repaired. It had been too awful, there was no way back. Would it even be possible for the three of them to live together again under one roof? Then it occurred to her that Jesus, at the age of twelve, had confounded the doctors in the temple when he discussed theological matters with them as their equal. Yes, but Fonchito was not a child prodigy like Jesus. He was more like Lucifer, Prince of Darkness. Not she but he, he, the supposed child, was to blame for everything."

A book which examines the power of the erotic and its hold over people this amusing must be great entertainment. With boundless wit and sublime irony the narration of the machinations of this trio are mesmerizing. Don Rigoberto's reflections are in some cases completely hysterical.

"I would like to recount to you, as we sit in a little cottage in the countryside surrounding your city, which I picture as full of lakes, pine groves and hills white with snow, and drink a glass of whiskey together and listen to the logs crackling in the hearth, how discovering the central role of fetishism in the individual's life played a decisive role in my disenchantment with social utopias- the idea that it was possible to collectively create happiness and goodness or realize any ethical or aesthetic value - in my journey from faith to agnosticism and the belief that moves me now: since man and woman cannot live without utopias, the only realistic way to create them is by transferring them from the social to the individual sphere."

Mario Vargas Llosa's latest work continues to entertain, to impress and to inspire. His work belongs in any collection of modern masters.

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Copyright Robert Giorgilli 2001. All rights reserved.