Aunt Julia & The Scriptwriter

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.

5 thoughts on “Aunt Julia & The Scriptwriter

  1. Hi Madhuri–The book sounds fascinating. I'm sad to say I haven't read any Vargas Llosa–although I've had a copy of The Bad Girl sitting on my shelf for about a year and a half and I was thinking about making time for it, now that the DeWitt read is over, given the Nobel.


  2. Hello

    It has been a longish time. I hope you are well. Nice to hear from you. I have been quite irregular with blogging generally this year. I see you have read a lot of books! Llosa , I really find boring, his stylistic insistence on boring the reader is so consistent. I do consider him a story teller though. Have you read his The war of the end of the world? That is readable.
    Compared to other Latin American writers, Llosa is stiff, unpoetic and unstylish. Also politically dodgy. In real life, he wanted to be president once, and lost though I do like such political commitment in a writer. My problems are with style alone however.
    Till date, I am not sure why people gush over the Nobel, as if it naturally elevates a writer to greatness. Because of my bias towards prizes generally, I have read very few Nobel writers. Llosa is a good writer and some consider him great.


  3. Hi Kubla Khan, nice to see you blogging again. I enjoy your posts – especially the poems.
    I find Llosa a good story teller – though I do feel like skipping pages when he goes on and on about something (like the love affair in this one).
    As for the Nobel – I respect the award, because most Nobel laureates I have read have something interesting to say. In India, a lot of literary books do not find themselves on bookstore shelves till their writer has been tagged with an award – and Nobel is as good as it gets. The award does not elevate the author, but brings an elevated author to the forefront, and his books on the table.


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