Title // The Neighborhood
Author // Mario Vargas Llosa
Translated by // Edith Grossman
Publication Date // April 2018
Readership // Adult
Genre // Fiction
Australian RRP // $29.99
Rating // ✭✭✭☆
I received a copy of The Neighborhood from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
A thrilling tale of desire and Peruvian corruption from the world-renowned Nobel Laureate.
From the Nobel Laureate comes a politically charged detective novel weaving through the underbelly of Peruvian privilege. In the 1990s, during the turbulent and deeply corrupt years of Alberto Fujimori’s presidency, two wealthy couples of Lima’s high society become embroiled in a disturbing vortex of erotic adventures and politically driven blackmail.
One day Enrique, a high-profile businessman, receives a visit from Rolando Garro, the editor of a notorious magazine that specializes in salacious exposes. Garro presents Enrique with lewd pictures from an old business trip and demands that he invest in the magazine. Enrique refuses, and the next day the pictures are on the front page. Meanwhile, Enrique’s wife is in the midst of a passionate and secret affair with the wife of Enrique’s lawyer and best friend. When Garro shows up murdered, the two couples are thrown into a whirlwind of navigating Peru’s unspoken laws and customs, while the staff of the magazine embark on their greatest expose yet.
Ironic and sensual, provocative and redemptive, the novel swirls into the kind of restless realism that has become Mario Vargas Llosa’s signature style. A twisting, unpredictable tale, The Neighborhood is at once a scathing indictment of Fujimori’s regime and a crime thriller that evokes the vulgarity of freedom in a corrupt system.
I had never heard of The Neighborhood when it was sent to me unsolicited and I will admit to being rather hesitant to pick it up. I often get that way with books that I have heard nothing about because of a fear of the unknown. While I can say that I probably wouldn’t have picked up The Neighborhood of my own accord, I was pleasantly surprised by this translated work that proved to be filled with political and sexual intrigue, coupled with a very different writing style.
The story follows two high-profile couples who are also friends. One of the men, Enrique, is approached by the editor of magazine with scandalous photos of Enrique from a previous business trip which he threatens to publish unless Enrique invests in his magazine. Upon refusal, the photos are released and Enrique’s life is turned upside down as all eyes turn on him. His wife, meanwhile, has begun an affair with the wife of her husband’s best friend. If that wasn’t enough intrigue, the reporter then turns up dead and both couples are forced to navigate a politically tricky situation.
It sounds very complicated – and it is – but it wasn’t a hard story to follow. I’m the first to admit to being unfamiliar with Peruvian history, so this narrative was, in itself, quite eye-opening for me because it includes quite a bit of political backstory. The story of the two couples involved in the scandal was engaging and watching each person navigate the fall from social grace and search for redemption in the eyes of the public was of great interest. I also appreciated the presence of very strong female characters who take their lives into their own hands, in spite of their husbands.
The one part of the book that left me uncertain, for a while, was a chapter towards the end, titled A Whirlpool. This chapter includes the perspective of every major character in the book, with the perspective shifting from one to the next every other paragraph. At first this left me highly confused and it took me a bit to recognise what was happening. After some time away from the book, I think my impression of that chapter has improved greatly, because it takes skill to be able to weave in all the different storylines together and keep track of them. So while it’s unusual, it may have become one of my favourite aspects.
Overall, I gave The Neighborhood 3.5 out of 5 stars.