Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mario Vargas Llosa: The Feast of the Goat

Francisco Goldman reviews Mario Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat.
The Feast of the Goat, nearly documentary in tone, is a dense, dramatic, at times almost unbearably cruel and relentless political novel. It belongs to the illustrious tradition of the Latin American–dictator novel, in this case the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. But it is also a culmination of two searches that have characterized Vargas Llosa's writing since the beginning of his career: for what he has referred to as the "total novel"; and also for a Flaubertian perfection, a perfect fusion of style, form, and subject. A few years ago, in an essay on Dos Passos's Manhattan Transfer, Vargas Llosa reflected on this idea of a "total" novel: "This is a desire to extend itself, to grow and multiply through descriptions, characters and incidents in order to exhaust all the possibilities, to represent its world on the largest, and also the most minute scale, at all levels and from all angles." Among the great works he lists that have achieved this is, of course, Madame Bovary. The "total" and Flaubertian idea, the "utopian design," is to create a novelistic reality so autonomous and whole that the reader feels convinced that this illusory reality is as true and durable as the reality it purports to describe, perhaps even more so.
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