The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa
The latest novel from this Nobel Prize-winning writer examines a web of corruption that extends from the world of business to the heart of family life. There are two storylines: a small-business owner in the northern town of Piura who refuses to pay protection fees, and the owner of a successful insurance company who needs to disinherit his two lazy, murderous sons. The novel balances on the point at which someone becomes a hero: these two men are not leaders of an agitating counter-culture but they each refuse to accept a predetermined life set out by the status quo.
While we might expect the younger generation to be the revolutionaries, it’s the older ones who stick most closely to their ideals. It’s refreshing to find the stereotype of ageing conservatism so thoroughly overturned – with humour, pathos, and quite a lot of sex. The prose is thick with detail, which works well in conjuring contemporary Peru, but in places it gets in the way of the plot. Edith Grossman’s translation deals with this as best it can, but there is a tendency to over-explain the details at the point where the narrative needs them least, which is deflating. Nevertheless, it is an intriguing exploration of the relationship between fathers and sons.