Too many good characters and Not enough time with them


Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, Mario Vargas LLosa

The problem with Mario Vargas Llosa‘s Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is that there are so many good characters that he uses for too short a time. Llosa’s novel is about a young writer (not yet published) who falls in love with his Aunt (not related by blood) and befriends the cranky scriptwriter. The book takes place in the sixties, when serial radio had reached its zenith in Peru. The narrator and would be writer has “a job with a pompous-sounding title, a modest salary, duties as a plagiarist, and flexible working hours: News Director of Radio Panamerica. It consisted of cutting out interesting news items that appeared in the daily papers and rewriting them slightly so that they could be read on the air during the newscasts.” (3) His Aunt Julia was recently divorced and moves to Peru to escape the stigma of being divorced. “Pedro Camacho. A Bolivian and an artist: a friend” is recently hired at the station and trusts only the lowly narrator as a confidant. (17)

Llosa switches narration between Marito’s life and Camacho’s radio stories. For me, therein lies the problem. All his radio stories are so enthralling that I want more. Of course Llosa builds stories up to cliffhangers and then returns to Marito’s life in the following chapters. It’s a brilliant style of writing: it leaves you wanting more but also puts the reader in the mindset of a radio-bound audience. You keep waiting for the story but it never comes.

There are so many brilliant styles of writing in this novel. Llosa writes the love story of a teenager. He writes about the teen’s friendship with the older scriptwriter. He also writes a number of serial stories: those that are credited to the scriptwriter. Llosa also writes some silly contrived short stories that are credited to the undeveloped writer Marito.

Initially the serials are merely fast paced stories but about 3/4 of the way through the novel, the stories start mixing characters and plots. We see the mind of Pedro slowly unravel. The serial stories hint and quickly reveal the loss of Pedro’s sanity.

Mario Vargas Llosa writes a book about two writers, one successful, one yet to become successful. One slowly loses his mind. He uses various styles of writing to reveal who the characters are. He writes their stories for them and stories about them. The amount of genius is astounding.

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