Tanuj Solanki's Reviews > The Feast of the Goat

The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
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Jan 12, 2012

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bookshelves: latin-america, library, dictator-novel, peru, nobel-prize
Read from April 23 to May 15, 2012

In Innaritu's movies, time moves forward, backward, it expands, it contracts. Time runs at different paces in various narratives, all of which emanate from or conclude in one grand event, an event which usually falls somewhere in the middle of the movie. An example is the car accident in the movie 'Amores Perros', where three different stories collide and then strike away in new directions, with different speeds. New narratives are floated, at times, to fill the logical holes in "the story". Innaritu flips and cut between stories to maintain high energy at most times, except in the select moments when a poignant emotion is required to be evoked.

Llosa's novel approaches the neurosis one finds in Innaritu's movies, but not completely. It is only after the major event in the middle of the work - the process and culmination of Trujillo's assassination - that the novel acquires a easy fluidity with time. Before that, a knowing reader can almost feel all the tricks that Llosa employs. It is only in the second half that the superb cinematic quality of the events lends itself absolutely to the structure and style, providing an experience similar to watching an violent explosion in detail, from various frenetic perspectives, with a clear view of all shards and splinters. We are obliged to feel terror, abhorrence, exhilaration, and excitement, words which we may lead us to think of the novel as successful as a whole.

However, Llosa's novel is not successful. Because there is that burdening fatigue even before we reach that massive event in the middle. There is ennui when one is made to wait too long for an explosion.

Q: What gives us this fatigue, this ennui?
A: The novel's lousy first half, where Llosa sticks to building one-to-two dimensional characters who never suffer a change (or who have suffered so much that they can't change) merely to prepare us for the finale. All is drab, and nothing is intended to be subtle. The big example is Trujillo. Granted that the dictator's weak bladder was a good ruse, but that being the only dimension to this person is a folly that may be excused a historian, but not to a novelist. One wonders if Llosa is so convinced of the pulsating nature of his story (most of it due to history) that he forgoes the classic requirements of a novel. He does try formal invention. We begin with three different narrative lines that converge (somewhat) later in the novel. Trujillo's perspective, and that of his assassins-in-waiting, seem to be part of the same story, but the third one, trying to portray the long term effects of the Trujillo era on the individual, seems incoherent, right from the beginning.
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Reading Progress

04/23/2012 page 1
04/23/2012 page 6
1.26% "Llosa, to show a conversation with the self, intersperses third person and second person voice. A reader might miss this ruse. It is wonderful to dig deeper and try and find the pattern: where does he use 'she', where does he say 'he'"
04/23/2012 page 6
1.26% "Llosa, to show a conversation with the self, intersperses third person and second person voice. A reader might miss this ruse. It is wonderful to dig deeper and try and find the pattern: where does he use 'she', where does he say 'you'"
04/26/2012 page 28
5.89% "Llosa attempts internal monologue in the first two chapter, but botches it up with all three perspectives - I, you, he. Trujillo's chapter reminded me somewhat of a similar chapter from Akbar's perspective done by Rushdie, in 'The Enchantress of Florence'. Rushdie was better than Llosa, in my opinion, even though the scope of Llosa's novel demands a certain expansion from him."
04/27/2012 page 65
13.68% "I'm yet to see something of high literary merit."
04/30/2012 page 150
31.58% "Even dictators can have weak bladders"
05/02/2012 page 166
34.95% "Wonder why Llosa has to talk about how beautiful Minerva Mirabal was. Maybe just to show how Antonio, despite knowing Dominican men as domineering to women and disliking that, couldn't get away from being Dominican. The erotism with Minerva is subtle and almost too easily lost."
05/03/2012 page 184
38.74% "Llosa realizes that the Urania chapters were dragging, and introduces a new character. But nothing new is revealed. The same questions get asked. The same thing. So, probably, it takes him 40000 words to convince us that something terrible has happened with Urania!"
05/04/2012 page 201
42.32% "Trujillo is created as a uni-dimensional character. This could be allowed to a historian, but not to Llosa."
05/15/2012 page 396
83.37% "Now that I've read the torture descriptions, they almost seem necessary to support the intent of this novel (sorry to be saying it in this manner). But why are the same descriptions repeated again and again with different people."
05/15/2012 page 407
85.68% "My judgment of the novel has been improving ever since Trujillo was assassinated."
05/15/2012 page 409
86.11% "The scene where Balaguer assumes a patriarchal role in the grieving, hapless Trujillo clan is well done... subtle and all."
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