In Praise of the Stepmother: A Novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, Helen Lane

In Praise of the Stepmother: A Novel

Rating – 3 stars

Okay so I have been putting this off…. procrastinating purposely to write a review for this one.

The reason being this book kinda freaked me out, to be honest still does. I have read plenty about enfant terrible, seen a couple of brats but the kid in this book knocks the ball out of the park for sure.
Evidently reading a book without glancing at its reviews has its repercussions a plenty sometimes.

Wanting to expand my horizons, to experiment and find authors new to me who have a credible line of work led to me Llosa. Reading a lot of praise for Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa I found this book while glancing for the translated versions of his works.

Settling for the shortest book was a conscious choice as I did not want to start with a huge book when reading a new author. I wanted to get a glimpse into the author’ style and see if I was even gonna like it. No point in investing time and money if it does not appeal to you as a reader after all. I read the summary which was interesting and figured it could be a good read; boy I did not see what I was heading into.

Perhaps that cover should have been my first warning but I really did not think much of it. Just thought it’s a bit scandalous but that is sometimes a way to grab eyeballs too, besides racy covers aren’t all that shocking anymore, so it was no big deal. Though this one does have a child on it which was a bit weird to digest but nonetheless I didn’t put much thought into it, which in hindsight may be I should have.

Translated from Elogio de la madrastra by Helen Lane, this book depicts the sexual and erotic life of Don Rigoberto and his second wife Doña Lucrecia, an upper middle class couple who live with Rigoberto’ young son Alfonsito called Fonchito, by his first wife.

Rigoberto is a creäture of habit and it can be annoying to read in detail the descriptions of his daily habits and his personal hygiene routine. A chunk of this already short book is devoted solely to how he keeps himself clean and what he does to make sure his looks are presentable and aesthetically pleasing, when he finally joins his wife in the bedroom.

The couple is recently married and quite sexually active thanks to Rigoberto’ interest in eroticism and his wish to live out fantasies inspired by certain works of art within the confines of their bedroom with his wife.

Lucrecia goes along with Rigoberto and though guilty of indulging in vanity herself is not entirely comfortable with the fantasies her husband has. She has just turned 40, which is an age that does start making a woman feel as if she is losing her youth more than ever. So even though her husband does create uncomfortable situations for her she goes with it, perhaps just to feel good about herself. Not wanting to age and feel attractive are the catalytic factors behind her actions IMO. She let’s him live with his delusions so that she may illude herself too.

Things run smoothly in the household until Rigoberto’ son whose age is not disclosed but who seems to be prepubescent to me embarks on an incestuous relationship with his stepmother Lucrecia. Fonchito with his cherubic face and obedient ways doesn’t strike to Lucrecia as anything but a loving child even though in the beginning she feared he would hate her. Instead he surprises her with his acceptance and acts in a way that makes Lucrecia feel she was being harried for no reason after all.

However it is just the tip of the iceberg that Lucrecia has seen, for unknown to her, her young stepson has taken an interest in her wherein he views her in a way which is anything but motherly. He spies on her as she takes baths and often hugs or kisses her. Acts veiled by innocence but being anything but innocent.

Slowly and surely Lucrecia who initially views it just as a child’ affections for his stepmother is manipulated. She knows all too well what she is doing or so she thinks when one day she finally crosses the boundaries she knows are forbidden while her husband is away on a business trip as she has her first sexual encounter with her stepson, which then becomes a norm. Fonchito’ innocence and youth appeal to her, feeding off her own cravings. Making her feel loved, cherished, beautiful and attractive, when a boy who though technically her stepson but a young man finds her tempting.

The household comes crumbling down when finally Rigoberto learns of his wife’ affair with his own son and assumes she manipulated the child and took advantage of him.

The only one who realizes what truly happened and who actually manipulated who is the housemaid Justiniana who recognizes the diabolical mind that lurks behind the angelic face of Fonchito.

The prose is so sophisticated that you have to be completely invested when reading the book to truly grasp the depth and sophistication of the writing.  While there are no vivid descriptions of sexual acts there is a certain sensuality and sexuality that just oozes out of the writing.

On the face the book is a scandalous piece of work which explores the controversial subjects of incest, pedophilia and tackles the lengths people could go to for sexual gratification however  on a deeper level it tackles issues such as the place of sensualism and sexuality in our lives and loss of innocence.

Not for the faint of heart certainly since the subject is pretty uncomfortable.


One thought on “In Praise of the Stepmother: A Novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, Helen Lane

  1. Hello. I just started reading this book for a class soon and I think that I just developed a hatred for Alfonso for lusting over for his stepmom and being a lying *bleep* wolf in sheep’s clothing. Plus, I think he’s a creeper. What a little *bleep* *bleep*!

    Sorry if I have to censor some cuss words out for public decency.

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