Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter

It's not often that I laugh out loud in books, and actually I tend to cringe when I think of what might be considered 'comic novels', but I have to say that Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa was really, genuinely funny.

I was inspired to read this novel by Dorothy's post on it back in March and I find myself generally agreeing with her thoughtful review.

Llosa's novel is set in Lima, Peru and is about Mario, an 18 year old law student who works in a radio station. The novel follows his scandalous romance with his Aunt Julia, his divorced 32-year old aunt by marriage. Interwoven with the story of their relationship is the tale of Pedro Camacho, a strange little Bolivian writer who writes serials for the radio station where Mario works. Camacho is a tireless writer who churns out endless stories in a frenzy of work. His fantastical tales make up every second chapter in the book and are just as compelling and fascinating as they are purported to be by the other characters in the novel.

Unfortunately Camacho has only a tenuous grip on reality and as his output reaches fever pitch he finds his stories and characters becoming hopelessly confused. Characters change names, jobs and religions, they swap fates and circumstances, and they come back to life only to die again in spectacular ways.

Simultaneously, Mario's life comes to more closely resemble the lives of Camacho's characters. His family are horrified by the romance with Julia and their efforts to marry are filled with comic misadventures.

Some interesting reflections on the process of writing and creation add another layer to the novel. The self-referential idea of 'writing about writing' would, I imagine, have been more novel when the book was published in 1977, but despite the waves of writers who have since covered similar territory, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter still offers fresh insight on the topic.

My only criticism of Llosa's novel is the ending is sudden and a little flat. I felt the story of Camacho was unresolved and attempts to tie up loose ends were unsatisfying.

That said, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is so much fun that I can forgive any minor imperfections. Llosa's wit and verve shine through on every page and his characters will stay with me for some time.


Dorothy W. said...

I'm glad you liked it! All the stuff about writing and the writer was interesting and one of my favorite parts.

jess said...

Thanks Dorothy. I agree, I especially liked the early stages of the book where Mario was playing around with different story ideas of his own, at the same time as being fascinated by Camacho's crazy work ethic.

battler said...

i just wanted to say i love yr blog. other people read! yay!
i am not alone!

don't mind me...at work and tired.

Carolyn said...

Does everyone know that "Aunt Julia" is autobiographical? This is a barely disguised story of Vargas Llosa's own life. He married his Aunt Julia, lived with her for about 8 years and then married his cousin, just as he relates in the story. I'm guessing there is some element of truth in his porrayal of Camacho also! Carolyn