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This review is taken from PN Review 66, Volume 15 Number 4, March - April 1989.

FOR THE LOVE OF EMMA Mario Vargas Llosa, The Perpetual Orgy, Faber £9.95
Mario Vargas Llosa, Who Killed Palomino Molero?, Faber £9.95

In a letter to his faithful correspondent, Mademoiselle Leroyer de Chantepie, Flaubert once wrote that 'The one way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in literature as in a perpetual orgy'. That Vargas Llosa should take this quotation for the title of his study of Madame Bovary says as much about him as it does about Flaubert. Vargas Llosa openly admires populist literature, with its emphasis on narrative, and many of his own novels show its influence. Who Killed Palomino Molero? is a case in point. In an earlier work, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, he created in the person of the Scriptwriter an obsessive churner-out of trite radio serials who shared to the point of madness the Flaubertian belief in literature as a means of escape from the self. For Vargas Llosa, Madame Bovary is a superlative example of soap opera, as well as a classic of psychological realism, and his reponse to it is primarily that of a fan. With the sort of vulnerable earnestness fans exhibit when discussing their heroes with sceptics, he assures us that Emma Bovary would make a wonderful mistress ('I have watched her strip naked and come, pale and grave, into Léon Dupuis's arms'). The Perpetual Orgy is as much an act of homage to her as it is to her creator.

Fantasizing about what Emma Bovary would be like in the sack is only slightly more rewarding than enquiring into the size of the Macbeth family, and Vargas ...


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