Bruce's Reviews > The Green House

The Green House by Mario Vargas Llosa
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's review
Feb 15, 2011

it was amazing
Read in February, 2011

This imaginative and highly creative novel by recent Nobel Prize in Literature winner Vargas Llosa is at first disconcerting to read. Several subplots alternate quickly from one to another, seemingly unrelated. Within each plot, characters are often addressed by more than one name, heightening the confusion. And dialogues jump without sign or warning between time frames and different events such that is it often apparent only in retrospect that characters are not present simultaneously. Sometimes the format is traditional dialogue in quotation marks, and at other times dialogue is imbedded in flowing paragraphs with minimal punctuation. Furthermore, sometimes it is not clear whether dialogue is being spoken or thought. Gradually, however - in the case of this reader after nearly 100 pages - subplots and characters begin to relate and mesh, and with practice and experience dialogue becomes decodable. And the picture that emerges is exciting and fascinating.

The novel is written in the third person, often in stream-of-consciousness form. There is no single primary protagonist but rather half a dozen characters that reappear throughout the book, advancing the plot. They include Bonifacia, kidnapped from her native Peruvian indigenous tribe as a very young girl and raised and educated by nuns at a mission station. Eventually she leaves (is dismissed) from the mission, marries, and ultimately ends up a “Wildflower,” a whore in The Green House, a tawdry brothel. The brothel was built by Don Anselmo, an enigmatic figure who comes to town with an unknown background; after the destruction of the brothel he remains as a somewhat mythical wandering harp player. Fushia is an unscrupulous middleman exploiting native tribes, buying rubber from them and selling it to buyers in larger cities such as Lima and Iquitos. His old friend is Aquilino who often fills in the narrative with his reminiscences. Sergeant Lituma and the woman Lalita are other characters that reappear regularly, as does
Adrian Nieves.

The novel is divided into four books and an epilogue, although in my mind there is no clear reason for these divisions. Within each book there are several chapters that are in turn divided into many brief sections, each section moving from one subplot to another. I often found it necessary when starting a section to leaf back and find the last related section so that I could retain continuity. All of these subsections gradually come together, creating a mosaic that is far more than the sum of its parts, and this whole is fascinating and magnificent.

Ultimately the novel is as convoluted as the shifting politics and loyalties of the characters, as mysterious, dim, and impenetrable as the jungle, as incommunicable as the different and mutually incomprehensible languages of the characters. To try to reduce it to a single “message” is both futile and unfair, the beauty and “meaning” of this work being more impressionistic, I think, leading the reader to a felt sense of the ambiance of the geography, culture, and history of Peru. Vargas Llosa has written a tale that would not have been the same had it been crafted in a clear and linear style, much as the novels of William Faulkner and Toni Morrison could not have been told in any other way. I was enchanted with this work and would love to read more novels by this author.
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04/22 marked as: read

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Antonio Rojas I highly appreciate your review, however, it is still unclear to me what is the merit of writing such a confused plot. The only reason why I am sticking to it (p 178!) is because three other books that I have read by this author are wonderful and I keep waiting for a miracle. I will read 50 more pages then I will abandon what appears now a total waste of time.

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