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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto

by
Mario Vargas Llosa


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto



Title: The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto
Author: Mario Vargas Llosa
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997 (Eng. 1998)
Length: 259 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto - US
The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto - UK
The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto - Canada
Les Cahiers de Don Rigoberto - France
Die geheimen Aufzeichnungen des Don Rigoberto
  • Spanish title: Los cuadernos de don Rigoberto
  • Translated by Edith Grossman
  • The characters in The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto were first introduced in Vargas Llosa's earlier novel, In Praise of the Stepmother.

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable bits, and sexually imaginative, but not always engaging

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph C 25/7/1998 David Robson
Evening Standard B- 20/7/1998 Andrew Billen
The LA Times B- 20/5/1998 Richard Eder
The NY Times Book Rev. . 28/6/1998 Walter Kendrick
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A Fall/1998 David William Foster
San Francisco Chronicle A 24/5/1998 William Rodarmor
The Sunday Times B- 2/8/1998 Joan Smith
The Times B+ 2/7/1998 Dominic Bradbury

  Review Consensus:

  No real consensus, though most found the stock figures and intellectualized eroticism fairly two-dimensional -- though most saw a few bright spots as well.


  From the Reviews:
  • "Unfortunately, Vargas Llosa clutters his canvas. (...) Despite odd flashes of vintage Vargas Llosa, reminding the reader what a charming and eloquent writer he can be, the kindest thing one can say about this strange book is that it has something for everyone. Sex with a castrated motorcyclist. Sex in a steambath. Sex with cats in attendance. Sex with a Mexican mulatta." - David Robson, Daily Telegraph

  • "As with most magic realists, Vargas Llosa is better at the magic than the realism. (...) The problem is that, for all the coruscating brilliance of the prose and of the translation, the erotic sections remain queasy reading. (...) Other critics have called this clever but unlovely book oneiric, which is lit-speak for "drowsy numbness pains". I'm not sure if Llosa hasn't demonstrated that erotica is actually more boring than pornography." - Andrew Billen, Evening Standard

  • "Notebooks shares some of Stepmother's qualities: elegant writing, lovely conceits and a fusing of humor with erotic arousal. It is, nevertheless, a twice-told tale and suffers from it." - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Mario Vargas Llosa's latest work of fiction is a pornographic novel; at least it would be if it weren't so artistic. (...) Vargas Llosa's most wicked stroke in The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto is to regale the reader with luscious evocations of just about every other sex act while leaving the crucial one to the reader's imagination, which can't hope to match Vargas Llosa's, Rigoberto's or indeed Foncho's." - Walter Kendrick, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(A) masterful exploration of the abyss of erotic endeavors." - David William Foster, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto is an amazingly seductive work. Flawlessly translated by Edith Grossman, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa's book is comic, erotic, pedantic and mysterious -- and it's never dull. The plot is so simple it's nonexistent." - William Rodarmor, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The striking feature of this novel, for this reader at least, is the complete absence from it of warmth and passion. As mechanical as the tableaux from famous paintings that Lucrecia acts out, its sex scenes strain for originality and fall instead into a familiar banal pattern." - Joan Smith, The Sunday Times

  • "The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto stands up well as a curious mix or eroticism, literary sophistication and dark comedy. Intricately constructed and beautifully conceived, it reaffirms Mario Vargas Llosa's reputation, alongside Gabriel García Márquez, as one of South America's finest contemporary writers." - Dominic Bradbury, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto is basically a continuation of Vargas Llosa's enjoyable In Praise of the Stepmother (see our review), and we certainly suggest you read that volume first (though this one can be enjoyed without any familiarity with the first one).

       Mario Vargas Llosa does sex quite well -- which can not be said for most writers. Sex figures largely in many of his novels, as well it might, and certainly his indulgent, often languorous, Latin American obsession with the subject often makes for an amusing read.
       The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto centers around an odd triangle of sorts, headed by Don Rigoberto, and including his second wife, Lucrecia, and Don Rigoberto's son from his first marriage, Fonchito (Alfonso). Don Rigoberto is an executive, with an after-hours passion for after-hours pastimes -- though these are largely restricted to his wild imagination, because he has banished his true love, Lucrecia, from the house. He is an interesting, educated man, with a marked disdain for those who do not share his refined tastes (i.e. pretty much everyone). Some of this is fun -- Vargas Llosa has a nice passage in which he rips into Patricia Highsmith and her Peruvian fans, for example -- but he naturally also comes off as quite a snob. He owns four thousand books and one hundred prints -- always the same number: when he adds one to his collection another one is removed and destroyed.
       In In Praise of the Stepmother Fonchito had managed to cause a rift between his father and his stepmother, leading to her moving out of the house. Picking up some while thereafter the events of The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto begin with Fonchito's efforts to return Lucrecia to the fold. Or so he at least makes it seem -- the little darling is definitely not one to be trusted, though foolish Lucrecia simply wilts at his every whim.
       Don Rigoberto's son is a precocious young lad obsessed with the decadent painter Egon Schiele (a popular literary subject nowadays -- see, e.g. Joanna Scott's Arrogance). It is an unhealthy obsession, and his request that his Stepmamá model the pose in one of Schiele's pictures further annoys Don Rigoberto (and leads him to devise his own plans). The boy -- truly just a boy -- is a bit too precious, and the seamy scenes he sets up are not quite beguiling enough to prevent the reader from feeling somewhat dirty. Vargas Llosa fails to convince us of the boy's innocence. He is presented as too obviously manipulative (and one wonders why everybody gives in to the little brat).
       Between the actual scenes -- of Fonchito setting up dear Stepmamá, and the consequences -- there are also excerpts from Don Rigoberto's notebooks, imaginative ruminations and stories which are often very entertaining. The opinionated and arrogant Don expresses himself well, and he is an interesting character. His dismissal of, for example, Playboy, (he calls the centerfold "that enemy of Eros") and his opinion that Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher ("not one of whose hairs moved for the entire time she was Prime Minister") are "more delectable sources of erotic desire" are interesting, though not wholly convincing. His philosophy of the erotic certainly holds the reader's interest, but the translation of that into the plot of the novel leaves something to be desired.
       The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto is an interesting, often enjoyable book. Older women who like the thought of being seduced by young boys (we know you're out there) will certainly enjoy it, and it is not bad as far as erotic literature goes. Fans of Schiele should enjoy it (if only to be upset by how the painter is used). There are enough scenes to please, but the whole is not as elegant as one might wish. We preferred the similar but smaller and simpler work, In Praise of the Stepmother. Lukewarmly recommended.

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Links:

The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto: Reviews: Mario Vargas Llosa: Other works by Mario Vargas Llosa under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa was born in 1936 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010. He has written many works of fiction and non-fiction, and has run for the Presidency of Peru.

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