The truth is probably more that Vargas Llosa has always been a writer who allows himself enormous latitude and license, and that he has been able to take work that tends to sound trashy and turn it into a miracle of invention.
What has sometimes gone wrong with his fiction, however, is the lure of very interesting historical subject matter. It happened in The Dream of the Celt, in which he wrote about Roger Casement, the great Irish patriot, whom the British accused of pedophilia during his years as a diplomat in Africa. Casement’s justification of the rebellion influenced Gandhi, but the accusation created a conundrum and a challenge. None of that stops him from being a fascinating figure, but Vargos Llosa’s novel about him is flatter and deader than one would have imagined.
There is always something dizzying when a great writer disappoints. In the case of hard times, the show makes you wonder if you’re too thick for words. In fact, you are in the presence of an act of compound literary madness in which Vargas Llosa, with his dizzying power to do whatever he wants, is actually mishandled.
For what it’s worth, such shortcomings are implicit in the extent of man’s mastery of literary license to roam where he pleases. Yes hard times barely works and represents a weird and wonderful lack of authorial intelligence on the part of Vargas Llosa, you could spend a long season reading it and learning what a big enough rule breaker can get away with.
Vargas Llosa, 85, will he get up? No reason why not. Does it matter? Not really, because his position as a contemporary classic and a dynamic literary master is assured.
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