August 13, 2011 by markbooks
I’ve been on a Vargas Llosa binge since picking up The Bad Girl in my local library a few months ago. I wish I’d discovered him sooner. It’s obvious why he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010. In fact, the only surprise is that it took them so long.
One of if not the finest of a mighty generation of Latin American writers, Vargas Llosa’s two pillars are the epic, exceptional The Feast Of The Goat and The War Of The End Of The World.
In the former, Vargas Llosa blends fact and fiction to tell the story of the end of Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorial regime in the Dominican Republic. Vargas Llosa’s genius is his ability to sustain an utterly compelling narrative through such a complex plot and with a vast force of characters. His remarkable attention to detail makes the reader a conduit to the contradictions and hypocrisies of the ailing Trujillo’s final days, his plot strands merging to devastating effect.
It’s a riveting, astonishing book: truly one of the best I’ve read.
The War Of The End Of The World is a mighty epic by any standards;so rewardingly gruelling does it become that it would not be entirely ludicrous to call it Latin America’s answer to War And Peace.
Concerning the battle of an apocalyptic cult to establish a libertarian paradise in turn of the century, newly republican Brazil, it is a world of prophets, circus freaks, wandering psychopaths and hungry vultures. It is a brutal, savage story – again based on truth – which serves to expose the futility and inherent selfishness of war.
It’s gripping from the opening line:
The man was tall and so thin he seemed to be always in profile. He was dark skinned and rawboned, and his eyes burned with perpetual fire.
If it lacks the sheer forced pace of The Feast Of The Goat – and if the final battle rages so long it almost begins to numb you to the horrors it chronicles (which is perhaps the author’s intention) it’s still a thunderous achievement, and one impossible to forget. (I must also add that having battled through 750 pages, it’s always a hell of a boost when you’re left with a killer last line).
Death In The Andes is Vargas Llosa’s testament to the terrors wrought by Peru’s Shining Path guerilla movement, but also by the security forces in remote Andean settlements where witchcraft still holds sway, and where good and evil is inexorably intertwined: It may get a little over-mystical at times, particularly towards the end, but it’s an engaging swirl of high-altitude horrors, and a fine insight into recent Peruvian history.
In The Bad Girl, Vargas Llosa examines desire and obsession, as the main character, Ricardo, lives his life in thrall to the irresistible, cold-hearted muse whom the fates continue to conspire to thrust in his path: spanning continents, it’s immersive and deeply elegaic, and stands obvious comparison to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Memories Of My Melancholy Whores.
They’re all pretty exceptional, and there’s more to come: Vargas Llosa’s novel about the Irish rebel Roger Casement, The Dream Of The Celt, is due to be published in English next year. I’ll be first in the queue.