MVL: In Praise of the Stepmother/Notebooks of Don Rigoberto
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In Praise of the Stepmother and The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto
I'm a big fan of Mario Vargas Llosa but I found that I admired these two books, which are unlike any of his others that I've read, more than I liked them. The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto is a sequel to In Praise of the Stepmother, written nearly 10 years later, and I liked it better.
In Praise of the Stepmother begins the story of Don Rigoberto, a middle-aged and not very attractive man, his beautiful younger second wife Lucrecia, and his devilishly angelic son Alfonso, known as Fonchito. An insurance executive by day, Don Rigoberto is an art connoisseur and erotic explorer by night, as well as man obsessively devoted to the care of his own body, care described, in some cases, in more detail than I enjoyed. The story revolves around the seduction of Lucrecia by Fonchito, and its aftermath, interwoven with Rigoberto's and Lucrecia's erotic exploits which are modeled after paintings that are actually printed in the book. Through this story, shocking in some respects, Vargas Llosa explores the ideas of imagination and creativity, and their link to the erotic.
The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, which takes place after Rigoberto and Lucrecia have separated, is more complex, interweaving Rigoberto's erotic fantasies with the writings in his notebooks -- comments on art, theater, and music, as well as unsent letters that expound on his belief that individual creativity, even what we would call fetishism, is vastly superior to mass, popular culture -- and with a plot in which Fonchito, obsessed with the art and life of Egon Schiele, now schemes to bring Lucrecia and Rigoberto back together. This book too explores the many facets of creativity, individualism, imagination, and mystery. I was impressed, as always, by Vargas Llosa's writing, but I wish I enjoyed it more.