Ichabod is itchy

July 26, 2006

Aunt Julia and the scriptwriter

Filed under: literature — by ichabodisitchy @ 7:03 pm

In an attempt to draw me away from my usual reading material (Victorian novels and crime fiction), my brother gave me Mario Vargas Llosa’s semi-autobiographical book Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter for my birthday. I’m beginning to feel like I always rave about books and films when I talk about them on this blog but I must say (once again!) that this book is a real treasure. It is set in Lima and has a wonderful Latino flavour to it. You can really hear the bustle of the capital’s streets as you read it and the warmth of the Peruvian people comes through loud and clear.

The book is a wonderful mix of fantasy and reality. The principal story is about Mario–an eighteen year old kid working for a small-time radio station and trying to make it as a writer on the side. You watch him fall for his step-aunt, a divorcee who is 14 years older than him, and then follow the lovers as they try to reconcile their relationship with their different positions both within their family and in society at large.

But the thing that adds depth to the book is the parallel story of Pedro Camacho–a Bolivian scriptwriter who comes to the radio station to provide the storylines for a series of fantastical soap operas. The chapters of the book alternate between the ‘real’ life stories of Mario, Julia and Camacho and the ‘fantasy’ life stories of Camacho’s soap operas (although it takes a while before you realise this is what is happening–to start with you just fall in love with a wonderful cast of Peruvians caught up in one silly story after the other).

Camacho works all hours of the day and churns out soap-operas at an unprecedented rate–each one more successful than the other. Mario, on the other hand, struggles his way through a succession of short stories, never quite satisfied with how they turn out. As the book progresses, you start to see the evolvement of these two characters– as Mario becomes a stronger and more successful writer, drawing on his real life experiences for inspiration, Camacho descends further and further into madness and confusion, lost in his fantasy world. This deterioration is marvellously portrayed through the ‘soap-opera’ chapters, which become more and more muddled and increasingly ludicrous. As Mario’s star rises, Camacho’s starts to fall.

The ending was a little weak but, my gosh, the lead up to it was fantastic. I really must make a conscious effort to read more Vargas Llosa.



  1. Interestingly, Aunt Julia is reputed to have written a reply to the novel. I’ve not been able to get my hands on this reply, and the only mention via Google is here (see end of 10th para) .

    Comment by James Long — July 27, 2006 @ 9:22 am |Reply

  2. ooooh – well that is *very* exciting. will have to see if I can try and find it. Would love to read the story through her eyes!

    Comment by ichabodisitchy — July 27, 2006 @ 5:48 pm |Reply

  3. Glad you liked it. It was the first Vargas Llosa I read and it got me hooked. There’s a book called The Storyteller which is absolutely fantastic – full of magical realism with a distinctly Latin American flavour – will definitely give you saudades.

    Comment by Terence — August 1, 2006 @ 9:06 am |Reply

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