Llosa has written on a variety of themes. In the books of his that I have read, he has created history in War of the end of the World, attempted a commentary on mindless violence of Latin America in Death in the Andes, sympathized with cultures vanishing into civilization in The Story-teller. And now, I read one in which he has presented comically a rebellious phase of his life.
Aunt Julia and the scriptwriter is as autobiographical as it gets. Llosa has not even made an attempt to camouflage the characters under a different name. The narrator appears as Varguitas, and Julia is Julia, the aunt Llosa married in his early life. He has of course played with the ages a little bit, making himself younger and her older in the caricature. (In reality, he was 19, and she was 29 when they married). Keeping company with Julia is an eccentric, Bolivian script-writer, who writes scripts for radio plays. Though a remarkable contrast is shown between the scriptwriter (at age 50, a dedicated writer who could fill pages worth a whole afternoon of radio in half sittings) and young Varguitas (who, at 18, struggles with numerous iterations of a short story), it seems that the script-writer could be yet another depiction of Llosa, who was also writing scripts at the time he met Julia.
Chapters in the book alternate between real-life and the scriptwriter’s plays. Undoubtedly, the plays are much more interesting than the real life – where a dry romance is blossoming (for no compelling reason apparently), between Varguitas and his aunt. The plays themselves, are sleazy, and often comical in an ironical fashion. These are stories where the protagonist is usually a 50 year old male, is detached from the world around him, and great at his work. (In other words, a man crafted after Pedro Camacho – the scriptwriter). These stories are written for effect, no doubt, and highlight many sensational sins of modern lives – incest, parricide, lunacy, self-castration, various forms of cold and hot murders, etc. Despite their sleaziness, (or perhaps because of it) there is something engaging about these stories. They always end in a ‘What will happen next…’, and though they don’t generate the kind of curiosity where you sit for pages wondering what happened to the last story, you are a bit unhappy when the story ends.
Towards the end, getting exhausted of his game, the scriptwriter begins to muddle up stories and characters, interchanging them, and in a bid to set things straight, blowing up the threads completely.
After all the fantastic build up of experimental narration and sinister stories, the end is surprisingly dull – there is no particular fun to the mangled stories of the senile script-writer, and the romance never takes off, ending in an equally dull and un-comical wedding. Perhaps Llosa, like many a writers got bored after400 pages. Or perhaps, like most writers, he could not find the perfect ending for such a build-up.
Since I will continue to believe that young Llosa and the old script-writer are one person, the author has brought out the dichotomy of popular writing and stylistic writing very well in this book. While young Llosa struggles to write a few pages of stylistic verse, the scriptwriter churns out popular text endlessly, giving Llosa a complex. Perhaps at one stage Llosa struggled with the choice between popular writing and painfully formed ‘literature’. In the end it seems he leans towards the stylistic, thoughtful literature,hinted by the status he accords each character.