In his book on Flaubert and Madame Bovary, called The Perpetual Orgy (1975) - the title is a phrase of Flaubert's for the life of writing - Mario Vargas Llosa says what he likes in novels: 'the greatest satisfaction a novel can give me is by stimulating, as I read, my admiration for some act of rebellion; my anger at some stupidity or injustice; my fascination with those histrionically distorted situations of excessive emotionalism that ... have always been part of literature, because they have probably always been part of life; and my desire.' This checklist of stipulated affects, to be brought on by 'revolt, violence, melodrama and sex', recalls, by its candid crudity, Sam Fuller's striking definition of a film, early in Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot Le Fou, as 'Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word ... Emotion'. Vargas Llosa's highly-coloured set of preferences is explicitly presented as a matter of temperament, something to be dealt with and built on, and he takes for an epigraph in The Perpetual Orgy the remark of Flaubert's friend Louis Bouilhet that 'our admiration is only complete for works that satisfy both the temperament and the mind.' What happens in this recently translated novel (which came out in Spanish in 1977, two years after the Flaubert book) is that Vargas Llosa excitingly turns his mind to this temperamental predilection, both in himself and others, by a double plotting of the 'pure' melodrama of radio soap operas against the real texture of ordinary life - a process designed, as he has said, 'to discover in that real life, in that version of ordinary life, the melodrama of a soap opera'.
LRB 16 June 1983 | PDF Download