P is for Peru

Those more astute than your humble blogger may have come to the realisation that there are only ten days of the year left and, in theory, eleven books still to post on. The maths is starting to get the better of the hopes. But like some less-fun things I don’t want to face up to I’ve decided to ignore the fact that we still have book-friends lingering on our alphabetical sideline worried they won’t get a game, and stick out my chin and plough on regardless. You should never let a deadline stop you from having a good time, or reading a good book.

Just as our book group was pondering its next selection, Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and having been rather North America-centric this year, we decided to venture south of the border. None of us had read Llosa before and we liked the idea of reading ‘something a bit different’. We chose Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. We chose it mostly because it was supposed to be funny and it was one of the shorter of the laureate’s books we could get our hands on. See, you think we make book-group decisions based on high falutin’ notions, but really we choose it on practicality and wanting a bit of a laugh.

And didn’t we laugh. But didn’t we do so much more than that. We clutched the little wad of paper to our chests, sipped our wine, and exclaimed what a  delight this novel was. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is one of the most entertaining, well-written, well-told stories I have read, and it was a hands-down favourite of our little clave. One person stated they’d be happy to read it for a decade. Another pondered out loud what rot they had been reading all their lives when they could have been reading the work of this Peruvian master. We had all ‘found’ a new writer to devour, and it filled us with a joyful hunger.

Mario is 18 and working for a radio station in Lima, trying his best to study and live on his meagre salary, and dreaming of being a writer and living in a Parisian garret. Then an odd little man—scriptwriter, actor and director extraordinaire Pedro Camacho—arrives at the radio station to revamp its flagging soap operas and fills Mario with curiosity. At the same time Mario falls in love with his aunt’s sister, who is older and (shock) a divorcee. Running parallel with Mario’s story are Camacho’s serials; sagas filled with delectable intrigue, passion, gore and violence, which take on a life of their own and, as the novel progresses, shadow the scriptwriter’s fate. 

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter may sound like an overambitious mess of a concept, and perhaps in the hands of another writer it would be a disaster, but in Llosa’s charge it is a glorious tale of genius. His writing is magical, the plot (believe it or not) runs smoothly, his description and turn of phrase are startlingly perfect; he is funny, smart, and entertaining. His novel is full of life and humanity; his writing epitomises what great storytelling should be.  

I was troubled for a while about how long it was taking me to finish this novel, especially when I liked it so much. I put it down to stress, the ‘time of year’ and annoying things like work and responsibilities getting in the way. In the end I wonder if perhaps my subconscious connived against me by staging a go-slow in the reading department. To echo a statement from one of my book-group colleagues, I hadn’t wanted Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter to ever end.