Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter – Mario Vargas Llosa

llosa_aunt_juliaWell, I finished. Not in September, I grant you, but I hope I may be forgiven. I may also struggle with managing North America in October, I suspect, unless I locate my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird quite soon.

Now, then, what did I think about it?

To start off, it’s not the book’s fault that it’s taken me three weeks to finish. Neither is it the Kindle, though I had one occasion when I wanted to read where the battery was low and I had no charger, reading on the Kindle was mostly problem-free. I also loved the possibility of looking up words there and then, especially since Llosa (or, rather, Llosa’s translator) used a few words I didn’t understand. The slowness was an effect of the backlash I tend to get when I’ve been reading the Aubrey/Maturin series, since while rereading that I tend to spend all my so-called spare time reading, so when I finish I tend to read less for a couple of weeks (spending my time on the PC or even – gasp – watching television, instead).

Having said that, it did take a couple of chapters to get into Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, but once I did get into it, it seemed to flow by quite quickly.

The plot centers on Mario, an 18 year old aspiring writer who works at a radio station in Lima while studying law. Aunt Julia is a divorcee who comes to Lima to live with her sister (who is married to Mario’s uncle), and despite the age difference, the two fall for each other. Parallel to the love story runs the story of Pedro Camacho – the scriptwriter – who is hired by Mario’s employers to write the novelas (soap operas) that are broadcast by the station. The novel is autobiographical (something I’d partly guessed but which I only had confimed when I loked it up on Wikipedia just now).

I’m afraid I didn’t really engage in Mario, which automatically means I didn’t really engage in the novel as much as I would have liked. I didn’t really care, for example, how the love story would turn out. I didn’t really care whether he was going to become a writer, a lawyer, a radio news editor or a failure. I was much more interested in Pedro Camacho, at least as a phenomenon if not a person. Unfortunately that part of the story sort of petered out a bit and felt somewhat unfinished (though I am sure that is because I was interested in Pedro as an end in his own right, rather than as a means to educate Mario – which is how I feel Llosa meant him). On teh whole, therefore, though I liked the novel and feel like I should probably read more Llosa, I didn’t love it – not by a long stretch.

According to my father The Feast of the Goat is Llosa’s best novel (of the ones he’s read). I might try that next (especially because I can borrow it from him).

Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts

“The International Bestseller”, the front cover proclaims. That always makes me slightly wary. Well, Shantaram actually turned out to be the most fanatastic book. It’s certainly the best book I’ve read by an author new to me since Never Let Me Go. I know a few people have issues with the autobiographical aspect, especially as regards the criminal subject matter, but it didn’t bother me at all. I read it as fiction, and thus as truth. Not as in “this actually happened this way” truth – that would be non-fiction, but as in “this could happen in this way” truth, which is quite frequently much better at making you feel what you are reading (well, making me feel it, anyway).

Despite its 900-odd pages, reading Shantaram was in no way a chore. As far as life has recently allowed, I basically tore though it. Except when I got about 60 pages from the end and seriously considered putting it down and not finishing. Not because it was bad, mind you, but because it was so good I wanted to stay with the feeling of not having finished it for a while. In the end I decided I was being silly and finished, but it says something about how involved I got. I also wanted to start right back on page one when I finished the last page, which puts it up there with only ten or so other books.

One fundamentally annoying thing about my copy – which I borrowed from my dad, though he might not get it back… – is a quote from Time Out on the back which subs for a synopsis by the publishers. It includes the line: “Amazingly Roberts wrote Shantaram three times after prison guards trashed the first two versions.” It made me think he had to end up in prison towards the end of the book somehow. He doesn’t. I don’t know when those first two drafts were trashed, but it’s not part of the present version. A spoiler on the cover would be bad enough (actually, the rest of the quote contains several spoilers), but a false spoiler? Seriously bad form.

I have seen complaints that Roberts’ language varies from the divine to cliché. Well, I noticed the former but not the latter, so I’ll stick to praising his turn of phrase myself. My (dad’s) copy is currently littered with post it markers to mark outstanding passages, but the whole thing read beautifully to my ears. I’ll leave you with a quote, and an admonition: Go read the book!

Now you will see the really city. Usually, I am never taking the tourists to these places. They are not liking it, and I am not liking their not liking. Or maybe sometimes they are liking it too much, in these places, and I am liking that even less, isn’t it? You must have it a good heads, to like these things, and you must be having a good hearts, to not like them too much.

— Prabaker

The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield was passed on to me from my mother, who thought I’d like it. And I did, sort of. After all it’s hard not to like a story where books are so much the be all and end all.

It’s a hard book to put down, and the tale was gripping enough, but once I had read the last page I was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied. Though the plot is clever and the booklore abundant I missed some sort of deeper connection with the story. None of the characters really stayed with me past the last page, and they shoukd have.

Anyway, here’s one of the passages on reading to which I cried “Oh, sister!” (well, not really, but I certainly felt recognition):

I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one ever expects to be fulfilled.