Sunday, June 09, 2019

Mario Vargas Llosa, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977)

Well, here we have this, which is a book what I read. It's an in part semi-autobiographical thing in which the narrator, named Mario Vargas, okay okay, is an eighteen-year-old aspiring writer working editing news bulletins for a radio station. "Aunt Julia" is his thirty-two-year-old divorced aunt (no biological relation) with whom he starts a relations; "the scriptwriter" is Pedro Camacho, a Bolivian who's been brought into Peru to bring his tireless work to the local radio soap operas (you might think from the title that the two are related in some way, but they're really not). Every other chapter is an unrelated story which, it quickly transpires, is an episode of one of Camacho's many serials. These start out normal but become strange as the scriptwriter starts to lose it, and characters from serials start getting mixed up and changing names and roles and everything, sometimes within the chapter. So the book is about the narrator and his relationships with these two characters.

So for the most part, I absolutely loved this, found it completely enthralling. No question that Vargas Llosa is some kinda genius, and the Camacho stories are just great (each starring a character in his fifties, always characterized as "the prime of life"--this is Camacho's age and he's feeling self-conscious about it)--the way he's able to create such compelling narratives in so little space, and the fact that they end on cliffhangers isn't really a problem--any resolution to stories like these is inevitably anti-climactic. When Camacho starts losing it, the confusion is both funny and creates a weird sort of pathos.

This is the fourth Vargas Llosa novel I've read. I loved the first half of The War of the End of the World and then found it became a bit of a slog; admired more than loved Conversation in the Cathedral, and found The Green Room impenetrable and dull. So I thought, yes! I've finally found it: the Vargas Llosa novel I can love with no reservations! And why not? I probably should've started here; it just would've made more sense to begin with the popular one. Yeesh. But...that "for the most part" in the above paragraph is really a bigger caveat than it might appear. Because goddamnit, I hated the end--the last chapter--of this novel. Everything's going along smoothly, la la, and then Julia herself is basically shunted out of the narrative, and Camacho--in what looks like an act of authorial sadism--is living in massively degraded circumstances and everyone's being all misogynistic about how his wife is constantly cheating on him. You could say--and you probably would say, were you the author--that this is because the point of it is to be a Bildungsroman, and that that other stuff is beside the point.

Nope; doesn't work. It's just monstrous narcissism to assume that this is all that matters. It's not throughout the novel, and this turn at the very end cannot be justified. It's maddening, too: I mean, given that I morbidly finish everything I start, I guess I shouldn't complain on my own behalf, but even if you're not, given that you don't get the rug pulled from under you 'til the very end, you don't even have the chance to give it up. I was left really unhappy. I still kind of would like to find a Vargas Llosa novel I can love, and I was planning on moving on to another right away, but given what ultimately happened, I'd say that...he can wait a while.


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