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In Praise of the Stepmother Paperback – October 1, 1991


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (October 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140157085
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140157086
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,963,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Don Rigoberto and his second wife arouse each other by telling highly eroticized classic myths based on the six well-known paintings reproduced here in color; meanwhile, Rigoberto's seemingly cherubic young son, Alfonso, cunningly seduces his stepmother. "This lapidary novella by the celebrated Peruvian writer reflects an artistry of almost infinite sophistication," said PW.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Vargas Llosa's brief novel dramatizes--but in most undramatic terms--an erotic triangle involving a self-absorbed if passionate widower, his voluptuous new wife, and his young son. Set forth as a series of tableaux inspired by master paintings (reproduced here in color), the novel eventually reveals itself as the actual instrument by which the son destroys his father's new marriage. Vargas Llosa's novel The Storyteller ( LJ 9/15/89) won high praise, but Stepmother --static and obsessive as it is--conveys none of the excitement of his best work. Perhaps he has been distracted; most recently, the author was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency of Peru. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/90.
-Grove Koger, Boise P.L., Id.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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See all 21 customer reviews
And while I was mildly surprised by the twist ending, I wasn't touched by it emotionally or intellectually.
Amazon Customer
One of those books where you go back and read over certain parts just to make sure that's what you originally understood because some of it is so off-the-wall.
Fatima Filgueira
I found the details of hygiene and bodily functions and functioning a bit much and not at all erotic as the book jacket blurbs claim.
James W. Fonseca

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
For North Americans and Europeans, In Praise of the Stepmother is no doubt the best known and most controversial of all of Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa's books. Wickedly witty and fun, this is a strange and beautiful little gem and a truly masterful and original piece of erotic storytelling.
Lucrecia, newly married to Lima resident, Don Rigoberto, an older, wealthy collector of erotic paintings, suddenly finds her position jeopardized by her husband's young son, Alfonso. She honestly wants the boy to love her, but at what cost? When Fonchito's hard won affection becomes hopelessly entangled with precocious--and dangerous--desire, the fun certainly begins, but the price, we see, may prove to be all too high.
As the relationship progresses into absurdity during Don Rigoberto's all-too-often absences, Vargas Llosa provides thematic commentary in the form of selections from the Don's art collection, included as full-color reproductions of famous paintings, from the Renaissance to the present day, each accompanied by a story to which the painting is to be an illustration. As the book progresses, so does the parade of paintings, twisting and expanding the concept of erotica.
For a small book, In Praise of the Stepmother has an enormous potential to enthrall and, yes, provoke. You might wonder how anyone could have written a book as good as this one. The only answer, of course, is that it is Vargas Llosa...at his best.
Strangely enough, in South America, it is Vargas Llosa's political novels that cause controversy; in North America, it is the sexual content. The cover of this little gem, Exposure of Luxury by Bronzino, was enough to make the censors want to go to work.
Anyone who loves wickedness, fun, wit or Vargas Llosa with fall in love with this book at the drop of a...stepmother.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 13, 1998
Format: Paperback
If you happen to have an interest in art history, believe that there is a difference between pornography and erotica, and enjoy stories with surprise endings, then this is the book for you.
On top of all of this, this is a substantial literary effort. If one appreciates beautiful prose and intelligent writing, here is a further plus.
I believe that history will prove Senor Mario Vargas Llosa to be one of the best writers of the twentieth century.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
There's a tendency, in our modern, hip and cynical culture, to revere innocence as something foolish and vulnerable and always, always GOOD. In this novel, the character of Fonchito proves otherwise and returns "innocent" to its original meaning: A being utterly incapable of telling right from wrong, and therefore as capable of unthinking evil as good.
A fascinating, wonderful and deeply disturbing book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Fernando Melendez on July 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book has so much beauty and sheer writing virtuosity that it must stand separate and alone. Like the Chaconne, or the suites for unaccompanied cello, or Shakespeare's sonnets, this book takes your breath away.
An integral part of the narrative are the six paintings (handsome reproductions of world art by Fra Angelico and Francis Bacon, among others) which are woven as counterpoint to the storyline. Nowhere in literature does one encounter such a masterful and extraordinary melding of two art forms: it produces a delectable, erotic, and frightening little masterpiece.
It is a story of lust, love, revenge, of Eros, of sexual awakening, and of the punctilious attention to one's body parts. It can be spiritual or gross, refined or vulgar, hilarious or tragic, depending on who you are, how you look at it, and the mood you are in. Every time I have read it (five, so far) it has again shocked, and delighted and made me humble by the sheer force of its beauty. The flawless translation by Helen Lane detracts not one iota from the Spanish original. Of course you should read it.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on October 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The story of the erotic intrigue between a middle-aged woman, her husband, and her precocious stepson, "In Praise of the Stepmother" engages both the reader's carnal and intellectual mind.
Interspersed throughout the text are a series of full-color reproductions of works of graphic art--Francois Boucher's "Diana at the Bath," Titian's "Venus with Cupid and Music," and others. Vargas Llosa accompanies each of the reproductions with a fictional interpretation that serves as a counterpoint to the primary narrative of the stepmother and her household. This device allows the author to take his reader across time and space, from fantasy to horror as the erotic odyssey unfolds.
In both the main narrative and the shorter embedded fictions, Vargas Llosa both shocks and seduces the reader with his sensuous detail and psychological insights. "In Praise of the Stepmother" is a multi-media tour-de-force. A delight for lovers of erotica, classic visual art, and great literature, this book confirms in my mind Mario Vargas Llosa's stature as one of the world's great writers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Certain Bibliophile on December 10, 2010
Format: Paperback
"In Praise of the Stepmother" is a thought-provoking fantasia on innocence, sex, and art which never fails to force us into questioning our most precious of assumptions. Not wishing to have our own little bourgeois moralities threatened is, I suppose, one reason why many people have dismissed this novel as "disgusting" or "immoral" or something equally nonsensical.

At its core rests a simple story. After a failed marriage with his young son Alfonso's mother, Don Rigoberto marries Dona Lucrecia, a woman whom he truly adores and is certainly erotically infatuated with. On the first page of the novel, Alfonso, a boy of ten or twelve, leaves a note on his stepmother's pillow congratulating her on her fortieth birthday, and saying that he will do his best to become first in his class to reward her. This is the inaugurating move in a cat-and-mouse game that drives the entire novel forward in a series of events that reaches its apex in a lurid sexual encounter between Alfonso and Lucrecia which occurs while Rigoberto is on a business trip. She does not deliberately set out to do this, yet still has found herself titillated by the occasional fugitive thought of her and her stepson in coitus. At the very end of the novel, we find out that Alfonso wrote an essay for school in which he details his erotic relationship with his mother and, to make matters worse, read it to his father. Why? We don't know. In the last pages of the book, the housekeeper asks Alfonso why he would do such an insidious thing to the stepmother he loved so much, to which he replies, "I did it for you," seemingly setting the entire wheel rolling toward tragedy and destruction once more.
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