Aunt Julia and the Writer

(Review) Novel written by Mario Vargas Llosa

Vargas Llosa’s novel, is an autobiographical background text, refers to the birth of his career, through the confrontation between the literary work itself and the subliterary paraphernalia of the radio drama series with which he had contact in his youth. Along with an eighteen-year-old Vargas Llosa with an incipient vocation as a writer, appears a successful Bolivian radio dramatist, Pedro Camacho, who writes, directs and represents the series of his invention and that moves the Lima public of the fifties for about five hours a day .

The extreme situation: in front of the young writer who lives a real radio drama when he falls in love with his aunt-in-law, fourteen years older than him, in a strict family environment that hinders the relationship at all costs, the famous writer spends the whole days locked up in his office , without reading a book or a newspaper, without going to football matches, the cinema or a party, and he always has stories to tell.

The texts of the former have a few occasional readers and, in the best of cases, aspire to have a few more if they are published in a newspaper supplement; radio theaters do have a large audience that exceeds all programming ratings in a few weeks, and the work, according to the volume of written (and broadcast) material, requires less time.

La tía Julia y el escribidor is the story of a few months in the life of Mario Vargas -his clandestine love affair with tía Julia, his routine life as director of information for Radio Panamericana and his constant reflections and literary attempts- that alternates, chapter to chapter, with the first episodes of

different series of radio dramas, written by Pedro Camacho and transmitted by the neighboring Radio Central.

The latter, nine in total, retain an apparent autonomy, although as their editor begins to rave and fall into the hands of madness, they are linked to each other through common characters or situations.

The last chapter of the play, with Pedro Camacho now relegated to the asylum, instead of presenting a radio drama episode, continues Aunt Julia’s story as an epilogue, eight years later, when Vargas Llosa has triumphed as a writer and has broken the relationship with his aunt

Within the realistic atmosphere that surrounds the novel, the story of the writer Pedro Camacho is nothing short of incredible.

Although it is totally probable that the radio dramatist, faced with the excessive work of fifteen or sixteen hours a day, confuses characters, unjustifiably modifies the anecdotes or resurrects dead characters in some previous tragedy, the examples that illustrate such madness are only premeditated and treacherous hyperbolic jokes .

There is a noticeable difference between the confusion (despair and despair) that Pedro Camacho’s simplistic madness provokes in radio listeners and that which it provokes in the novel’s readers.

It is not the radio playwright who confuses names and situations, it is Vargas Llosa who confuses them.

The fluidity of the narration, without that pompous prolixity of supposed formal innovations, the modest development of the anecdote and the humorous counterpoints of radio plays, make Vargas Llosa’s novel accessible to a wider circle of readers.

Aunt Julia and the writer once again reveals the enormous narrative capacity of its author; however, the monolithic nature of the characters and the anecdote, the lack of economy, the incipient autobiographical realism, the Manichaean conception of literary work and the unequal jokes, present a new Vargas Llosa writer who is in danger of having as many readers as Pedro Camacho radio listeners.

This review was published in the magazine Nexos, in April 1978.