Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Notebooks of Don Rigoberto

Paperback jacket cover of 'The notebooks of Don Rigoberto' Rolla 1878 by Henri Gervex

I recently read the novel 'The notebooks of Don Rigoberto' (Eng. trans 1998) by the Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa (b.1936). It's an extremely funny and at times erotic work which is centred upon three principal characters -Don Rigobetro, an insurance executive by day and hedonist and erotomaniac by night, Dona Lucrecia, his estranged lover and the Don's precocious adolescent son Fonchito. The lesser character of the maid to Lucrecia, Justiniana, features as a kind of sane and neutral chorus in her observations upon the antics of the trio throughout the story.

The scant plot set in modern-day Lima, Peru, involves the efforts of the son Fonchito to reconcile his father the Don to Lucrecia by the subterfuge of anonymous letters, which Lucrecia believes to be from the Don. Of equal interest other than the various voyeuristic erotic scenario's which the Don schemes for Lucrecia, are extracts from the Don's notebooks. These feature a diatribe against modern mass-man's fanaticism for sport, various aesthetic observations including an anti-Rotarian rant and an exaltation and defense of phobias.

By far the most interesting character in the novel is the bright, at turns naive and wise to the world of human sexuality, teenage son, Fonchita. Fonchita is near obsessed with the life and paintings of the Viennese decadent artist Egon Schiele. His knowledge of almost every aspect and detail of the painter's short biography and art-works borders upon the pathological. He talks of little else to the extreme concern of Dona Lucrecia, but in fact exhibits the self-same traits of his father who is also a dedicated aesthete and follower of the arts. The following lines, although a little rude, made me burst out laughing at his ambiguous naivete.

After a while she heard him saying, in a different tone of voice, "You too, Stepmama?" "What?" "You're touching my backside too, just like my papa's friends and the priests at school.Golly! Why is everybody so interested in my bottom?"

'The notebooks of Don Rigoberto' has an interesting affinity to the grandfather of all world literature, namely Cervantes 'Don Quixote' (1605) . Just as Don Quixote indulges in idealized love, adoration and worship of Dulcinea, so too Rigoberto adores Lucrecia with absolute devotion, placing her in all kinds of erotic scenario's, real and imagined, often of a voyeuristic nature, only in order to come to her rescue.

Extremely well written by a grand master of South American literature, the aestheticism of Don Rigoberto reminds me of another novel in which the protagonist is at war with the banality of society, absorbed and indulging in his sensuality, namely the character Des Esseintes in Joris-Karl Huysman's 1884 novel A Rebours. 

Postscript: On October 7th Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel prize for Literature.

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