By Mario Vargas Llosa. Translated by Edith Grossman.
276 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $25.
Author photograph by Luis Acosta/Agence France-Presse
The genius of “Madame Bovary,” as Vargas Llosa describes it in “The Perpetual Orgy,” is the “descriptive frenzy … the narrator uses to destroy reality and recreate it as a different reality.” In other words, Flaubert was a master of realism not because he reproduced the world around him, but because he used language to create an alternate existence, a distillate whose emotional gravity transcends that of life itself. Emma, Vargas Llosa reminds us, has survived countless readers. Not merely immortal but undiminished by time, her passions remain as keen as the day her ink was wet.