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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Neighborhood

Mario Vargas Llosa

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To purchase The Neighborhood

Title: The Neighborhood
Author: Mario Vargas Llosa
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 244 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Neighborhood - US
Cinco esquinas - US
The Neighborhood - UK
The Neighborhood - Canada
Aux Cinq Rues, Lima - France
Die Enthüllung - Deutschland
Crocevia - Italia
Cinco esquinas - España
  • Spanish title: Cinco esquinas
  • Translated by Edith Grossman

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Our Assessment:

B- : surprisingly flat for all the sensationalism

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 27/4/2018 Boyd Tonkin
FAZ . 20/10/2016 Sandra Kegel
The Guardian B- 27/4/2018 Anthony Quinn
The NY Times . 20/2/2018 Dwight Garner
The NY Times Book Rev. . 18/3/2018 Michael Greenberg
The Observer . 13/5/2018 Ben East
The Spectator A 30/6/2018 Jeff Noon
The Times . 28/4/2018 Siobhan Murphy
TLS . 2/10/2016 Max Long
World Lit. Today . 9-10/2016 César Ferreira

  Review Consensus:

  Pretty underwhelmed

  From the Reviews:
  • "For all its skill and verve, The Neighbourhood cannot help sounding like (say) a novel of the Trump presidency written by Hillary Clinton. (...) By no means his subtlest work, The Neighbourhood -- punchily translated by the ever-excellent Edith Grossman -- still pulses along with a zest and cunning not commonly found among octogenarian Nobel laureates. " - Boyd Tonkin , Financial Times

  • "Mario Vargas Llosa hätte mithin reichlich Stoff gehabt für einen großen Roman, ein peruanisches Sittenstück, enthüllend im Sinne der Romantitels. Stattdessen bringt er in einer plotgetriebenen, von Dialogen durchsetzten Erzählung die beiden Sphären uninspiriert zusammen: den Boulevard, der noch jeden unbescholtenen Bürger zur Strecke bringen kann, und Fujimoris Schreckensregiment, das ein Land in Angststarre versetzt." - Sandra Kegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(A) busy fresco of betrayal and retribution, though Vargas Llosaís handling of his material isnít wholly assured. The colouring can be rather crude, and his tendency to repeat scenes and phrases is surprising in a writer awarded the Nobel prize in 2010. (...) The story, while moderately diverting, never achieves a truly compulsive rhythm. The eye keeps snagging on formulas in seeming rotation." - Anthony Quinn, The Guardian

  • "Vargas Llosa squeezes a fair amount of juice, and pulp, out of this conceit. Which is not to say that The Neighborhood is very good. (...) The telenovela touches keep coming. When people are upset or frightened in this novel, their teeth chatter. Or they faint. Or froth at the mouth. Or retch. Or pee in their pants. This novel is no austere orgy of minor-chord emotion. Vargas Llosa, now 81, is playing to the balconies." - Dwight Garner, The New York Times

  • "(A) political mystery of the kind he regularly turns out between his more monumental historical productions. (...) To tell his story, Vargas Llosa employs the familiar telenovela technique of alternating chapters among different characters, allowing the destinies of the lowborn and the high, the powerful and the powerless, to intersect in ways they themselves never see." - Michael Greenberg, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Itís the salacious stories of the wealthy that propel what is still an enjoyable, if uneven, page-turner of a novel to its odd conclusion. Llosaís craft is only intermittently on display here, but he still has the power to enthral. " - Ben East, The Observer

  • "Itís written with such intensity that the authorís urge to create is felt in every line. (...) A serious book for serious times." - Jeff Noon, The Spectator

  • "The novelís multiple stories are glued together by a series of long-winded and highly explicit sexual encounters that quickly become grating. Some of the post-coital exchanges could certainly have benefited from tighter editing. Perhaps the novelís greatest failure is that its sexual content speaks louder than its political message. Although the plot itself is well structured, the interactions between its many characters sometimes feel clumsy. In short, Cinco esquinas lacks the genius and sophistication that earned Mario Vargas Llosa his Nobel Prize." - Max Long, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Mario Vargas Llosaís latest novel is as much a psychological thriller as it is a compelling portrait of power and corruption in Peruís recent political history. (...) (T)he text does not display the great narrative dexterity for which the Peruvian writer became known for early in his career; moreover, while there are a number of interesting characters in the novel, at times the story seems to beg for more fully developed and psychologically dense personalities in some of them" - César Ferreira, World Literature Today

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:

       In summary, The Neighborhood has a promising plot: the publisher of a tabloid magazine gets his hands on some racy photographs showing one of the nation's most powerful and successful businessmen in compromising positions and, when his efforts at extortion fail, publishes them -- only to wind up murdered shortly thereafter, with the businessman then, of course, the obvious suspect in the crime. Set in Vargas Llosa's native Peru, at the end of his nemesis Alberto Fujimori's corrupt reign, with a background of real terrorist threats and a general atmosphere of fear, suspicion, and economic inequality there's a lot of potential here for a sharp political thriller; unfortunately, Vargas Llosa realizes little of it.
       Two wealthy couples are at the center of much of the story: businessman Enrique 'Quique' and his wife, Marisa, and their close friends, the lawyer Luciano and his wife, Chabela. The muckraker with the photographs is Rolando Garro, who has big ambitions with his small-time rag, Exposed -- and proposes to Enrqiue that the businessman invest in it, a pay-off for the photographs not being made public but also a business opportunity: "we're a nation of gossips", Garro reminds Enrique, and with a bit more money to put into the magazine he thinks it could really take off. Enrique doesn't take up his offer, turning to Luciano and his colleagues for advice, and Garro publishes the sensational pictures -- which certainly put Exposed on the map, and make Enrique the talk of the gossipy town.
       The compromising pictures came from an orgy Enrique was lured into a few years earlier -- apparently an earlier blackmail effort that was never seen through. Luciano warns Enrique that he suspects that the man really behind the pictures is:

     The strongman in this government, the one who makes and unmakes careers, the real boss of Peru
       This is 'the Doctor', the head of the Intelligence Services, Vladimiro Montesinos -- a real-life figure who did, indeed, blackmail and control media outlets.
       The novel zips along, shifting focus from one chapter to the next as it also introduces several other significant characters, including the other workers at Exposed, and Juan Peineta, who enjoyed a brief period of fame as an entertainer but blames Garro for everything that then went wrong in his life. Vargas Llosa here turns again to the telenovela-influenced approach that he's employed in some of his novels, with characters from different social backgrounds caught up in one big mess -- and lots of sex along the way.
       The penultimate chapter -- of twenty-two -- is a 'Special Edition of Exposed', which allows Vargas Llosa to recapitulate and more or less summarize the wrong-doing, and those responsible -- a rather lazy way of tying most of the story together --, while the final chapter, set a while later, is set in a calmer Peru:
     "It's incredible," she said. "Who could have imagined that terrorism would disappear, that Fujimori and the Doctor would be in prison
       But the chapter is still questioningly titled -- leaving open whether this will truly be a 'Happy Ending ?'
       The neighborhood of the title is 'Five Corners' -- "one of the most violent neighborhoods in Lima, with assaults, fights, and beatings all around" -- and this is where Garro's body is found. As it turns out, he wasn't killed there, but rather his body was dumped there -- something that then points to the actual perpetrators. But Vargas Llosa doesn't focus much energy on any sense of actual mystery -- there's little suspense about the who/how/why-dunnit here.
       What Vargas Llosa does invest more energy in is the sex -- from the opening chapter, in which he has Marisa and Chabela discover that there's quite a bit of pleasure to be found in each other's bodies. And while Marisa and Enrique's marriage suffers when the photographs are released, their sex life had already become rather tepid -- yet it's out of this crisis that re-learn how to get it on, hot and heavy, with one another again. Their marriage is reïnvigorated; as Enrique tells her:
This damn scandal was good for this, at least. To know that I'm crazy about you. That I'm lucky enough to have married the most beautiful woman in the world. And the most delicious in bed, too.
       And so, while Enrique gripes about everything he has to put up with after the publication of the photographs, it comes across as being little more than a minor annoyance. Vargas Llosa treats it as a rather small inconvenience and embarrassment, with essentially no consequences.
       The Neighborhood appears to be Vargas Llosa's attempted reckoning with some of what he believes was (and is) wrong with Peru -- certainly the deservingly disparaged Vladimiro Montesinos, as well as the widespread fascination with gossip. It's hard not think that he takes these things a bit personally, too -- which doesn't seem to have done the novel much good, with the distance that he tries to write with here feeling forced.
       The Neighborhood is a novel with a decent premise and plot that putters and sputters along, sustained by Vargas Llosa's confident, easy-going writing but, ultimately, little else. It falls flat both as any sort of mystery or thriller, as well as social-political critique. It's perfectly readable -- but also kind of a dud.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 March 2018

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The Neighborhood: 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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© 2018 the complete review

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