The average rating for La t�a Julia y el escribidor (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter) based on 2 reviews is 4.5 stars.
|Review # 1 was written on 2020-08-09 00:00:00|
Sherri A Ebright
My second novel in a row by this author. This one was named one of the best books of the year (1982) by the New York Times Book Review. There's a lot going on in this "multilayered novel" so I'll add my comments to the basic summary on GR. The story is set in the Lima of the author's youth, where a young student named Marito is toiling away in the news department of a local radio station. His young life is disrupted by two arrivals. The first is his aunt Julia, recently divorced and thirteen years older, with whom he begins a secret affair. The second is a manic radio scriptwriter named Pedro Camacho, whose racy, vituperative soap operas are holding the city's listeners in thrall. Crowds line up to see him at work in a tiny cubicle. Pedro chooses young Marito to be his confidant as he slowly goes insane. He mixes up his radio characters from one saga to another. People die in a fire and re-appear in the next episode. The doctor in one becomes a judge in another. In alternating chapters the book interweaves the story of Marito's life with the ever-more-fevered tales of Pedro Camacho, so it's also like a collection of short stories. We are also treated to the plots of a few short stories written by the aspiring author. All of the scriptwriter's stories are spellbinding but bizarre, and in imitation of nature of cliff-hanger serials we are left hanging with endings like "will the accused rapist castrate himself in court to prove he is innocent?" A childhood trauma leads a man to create a rodent-killing business and to become an abusive husband and father. A misshapen man is in love with a cloistered nun yet somehow they manage to die in each other's arms. Marito has a big, gossipy, interconnected family. When he takes up with his "aunt" (she is really the sister of an uncle by marriage) the drama and trauma is daily. Vargas Llosa gives us a lot of local color of Lima and of Peru in the 1950's. True to that timeframe, we hear of darkies, sambos, queers, fags, and we hear malicious slanders about Argentines, Bolivians and everyone else. If you haven't read him, here's an example of that detail and of his writing style: "An office had been set up for him in the concierge's cubbyhole. In this tiny room, with a low ceiling and walls badly damaged by the dampness and by the ravages of time and desecrated by countless graffiti, there was now a monumental wooden desk, so dilapidated that it was about to fall apart, but nonetheless as imposing as the enormous typewriter rumbling away on it. The outsize dimensions of the desk and the Remington literally swallowed up the little runt. He had put a couple of cushions on the seat of his chair, but even so, his face came up no higher than the keyboard, so that he was typing away with his hands at eye level, thus causing him to appear to be boxing. He was so totally absorbed in his work that he didn't even notice my presence, despite the fact that I was leaning right over him. His pop-eyes were riveted on the paper as he picked at the keys with his two forefingers, biting his tongue….I couldn't decide whether the whole scene was pitiful or wildly funny." It took me a while to understand exactly what was going on and maybe the novel is a bit longer than it needed to be, but in the end I really enjoyed it. The GR blurb calls it masterfully done, hilarious, mischievous, a classic and I agree. Top two photos of Lima in the 1950's from postcards on eBay The author from theparisreview.org
|Review # 2 was written on 2015-08-11 00:00:00|
He was in the prime of his life, his fifties, and his distinguishing traits - a broad forehead, an aquiline nose, a penetrating gaze, the very soul of rectitude and goodness. Genius and insanity may or may not have a close concordat but stories of this kind never fail to fascinate me; and even more when they are subjected to satire, as Llosa does with great effect in this case. Pedro Camacho - the man behind the metrically balanced name is an unbalanced maverick of singular mind to whom the only thing that matters in life is his art. Every week he churns out radio serials by the dozens, casting a hypnotic spell on his vast audience. It is not long before he cracks under the strain of extreme overwork he is wont to justify as total devotion to his art. When his narrator-friend asks him if he intends to start a family and settle down, Camacho shakes his head at the stupid question and replies incredulously: Do you think it's possible to produce offspring and stories at the same time? That one can invent, imagine, if one lives under the threat of syphilis? Women and art are mutually exclusive, my friend. In every vagina an artist is buried. What pleasure is there in reproducing? Isn't that what dogs, spiders, cats do? We must be original my friend. As I read I was perplexed by the two-dimensional clichés perfectly embodied in their exaggerated and flawless character traits. It was as though Jeffrey Archer's ghost had got into Llosa's bloodstream. Is that the best you could do, Mr. Llosa? Come on!. My hunch that I were missing something turned out to be right. It was in the middle of the third story I realised what was happening: Pedro Camacho hadn't made appearance by that time, but his electrifying radio serials were reproduced verbatim with all their pulpy gloss, alternated by the second narrative stream that concerns the narrator Marito's account of his love affair with Aunt Julia. The novel came truly to life in the second half when Camacho's stories took on the comical effect. The scriptwriter has signature devices set in motion to churn out his theories of fiction. Heroes of radio serials reflect what I'd call their creator's obsessive-compulsive disorder. Each of them is highly committed to their ideals to the detriment of their personal lives, their relationships, and to everything that does not concern their preoccupation. It's as though Pedro Camacho reinvents himself in every play he writes. Soon the reader discerns formulaic storylines, incessant repetitions, taboo subjects, predilection to catastrophic coincidences to shock the listener (like accidents, drownings, burnings), but most importantly characters from one story start popping up into other serials and those that he'd killed in one episode make reappearance in another, mixing up settings and plots, confusing up situations and endings. There was nothing when his patterns of thought and habits of writing collapsed. Everything was a mess by the end. Pedro Camacho was going mad and funny. It would not exaggerate to say that the novel is anchored in the character of Pedro Camacho round which Llosa weaves the semi-autobiographical story through Marito's struggles as an aspiring writer who falls in love in an odd way, with Julia who is his aunt by marriage and thirteen years his senior, a divorcee. Reminiscing on old days, Marito relates his struggles to make sense of his life at the time when he and Aunt Julia had challenged a big social taboo with their romance. Even at its most intense, they both know that their amorous relationship is a passing fantasy which is fated ab initio even if they defy their families and get married. Still, the certainty of eventual failure does not diminish the thrill of the adventure. I do not know if a conjunction had ever been more inappropriately employed to strike out a novel's title as in this case. When we hear Adam and Eve, we think of some association between them even if we don't know anything more about them. Conjunctive titles indicate a connection between the two subjects. There is no such association between Aunt Julia and the scriptwriter save their separate links with Marito. Except for a small and inconsequential meeting between them the two main characters of the novel keep orbiting in their separate spheres, which means the two narrative streams are held together tenuously. Marito's love story with Julia is held out in dramatic tension in the larger narrative but unfortunately Llosa struggles to round it off. The reader is made to care about their passionate romance till the final twist when the whole thing crumbles in a self-imposed drop scene. Or perhaps Llosa divests too much information for it to leave any lingering effect on the reader. Leaving it uncertain would probably have worked out better. But then I'm not the author of this novel, Mario Vargas Llosa is; and he is eloquent, engaging, endearing. He writes beautiful sentences dripping with wit and humour (or at least his translator Helen Lane does in this case, great work Helen!). The novel is best enjoyed for its dramatic episodic quality; seen in whole from a critic's distance it might not stand up to the scrutiny of a sharper eye. I want to rate it moderately good at three stars but the bemused reader in me wants to award four stars for the entertaining tragicomic vein Llosa has strung me on. I am even prepared to say that in satirising pulp fiction Llosa has made it seem much more intellectually pleasing than the real pulp fiction ever is. Another angle to the satire is some writers' self-indulgence. We understand that Llosa is partly involved in self-mockery as he makes his character utilise the same self-adulatory language some "high" writers bestow on each other and elevate their art to a sublime level as though fiction writing, or for that matter poetry, is an otherworldly pursuit that cannot be understood by the herd-like masses. Yet beneath high-sounding verbal games their work turns out to be quite ordinary and banal. How could he be, at one and the same time, a parody of the writer and the only person in Peru who, by virtue of the time he devoted to his craft and the works he produced, was worthy of that name? October '15
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