Our missed opportunity is a wonderfully imaginative and beautifully written novel by Mario Vargas Llosa who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010. Set in Peru in 1950’s the story alternates between a passionate scandalous love affair interspersed with crazy, highly amusing instalments of a radio soap opera.
- best book club reads -
AUNT JULIA AND THE SCRIPTWRITER
BY MARIO VARGAS LLOSA
Our missed opportunity is a wonderfully imaginative and beautifully written novel by Mario Vargas Llosa who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010. Set in Peru in 1950’s the story alternates between a passionate scandalous love affair interspersed with crazy, highly amusing instalments of a radio soap opera. Hidden gem of a read.
Varguitas (Mario) is 18, studying law at university whilst working on the news bulletins at a struggling radio station in Lima. He lives with his grandparents and on a visit to his uncle Lucho meets Aunt Julia. Aunt Julia is a 32-year-old divorcee, recently arrived in Lima in search for a new husband. Mario becomes totally smitten with Aunt Julia who is not a blood relative. Gradually his feelings are reciprocated as they begin a clandestine love affair at a time when such an age gap and the fact Aunt Julia is divorced would be deemed scandalous for any respected catholic family.
Mario’s dream is to be a writer and live in Paris, so when he meets Pedro Camacho, an eccentric Bolivian writer who has been employed by the radio station to up its ratings, they form an unlikely friendship. The novel alternates between the developing relationship between Mario and Aunt Julia and episodes from the now highly anticipated and successful instalments from the radio show. However, as the lovers become careless and expose their relationship can Mario and Aunt Julia survive the wrath of his family who had such high hopes for him. Meanwhile Pedro Camacho begins to suffer from exhaustion and memory lapses causing him to confuse his characters and make appearances in the wrong stories. What will be become of this rather shambolic, unsightly figure with a magical voice and gift for storytelling?
Through Pedro Camacho’s soap opera, Llosa has created highly entertaining, often bizarre and highly imaginative parables. Usually revolving around tragedy and always ending on a cliff-hanger, they often tell a ‘rags to riches’ tale or vice versa.
This is a beautifully written and comic book which has semi-autobiographical influences as Vargas Llosa himself married his “Aunt Julia”, also not his actual aunt (!) and started his career working in a radio station. Vargas Llosa not only gives an insight into the complexities of being a writer, he also ponders the often absurd turning points of life and parallels of tragedy and comedy within our fragile lives. An unexpected, entertaining treat for any book club.
The book was made into a film called ‘Tune in Tomorrow’ in 1990 with Keanu Reeves but was switched to the US location of New Orleans - so definitely worthwhile reading the book set in its original Peruvian setting first.