This magnificent little book is page-turner. It is a plot driven work that analyzes the rule and the assassination (and the consequences thereof) of Rafael Trujillo, the dictator of the Dominican Republic from 1930-1961. The book has an unlikely hero (to reveal the name here would constitute a ‘spoiler’) and, obviously, an anti-hero (Trujillo himself).
But the book is more than mere plot, for the plot functions as a vehicle for the analysis of a host of highly individuated characters – characters of great depth and intensity of feeling and of existential weight.
(Contrast Aristotle’s Poetics, for whom character [ethos – which refers to character TYPES, stock characters, not individuals in the modern sense] is a vehicle for the unfolding of plot [mythos]. In this very classic sense, Vargas Illosa’s work is ‘classically’ modern.)
But these characters are not there simply to function as pools of feeling or of self-absorption or of narcissism and the like – as is so often the case with modern literature. For the characters in this work function quite explicitly as a vehicle for the analysis and anatomy of the modern pathologies of fascism and of authoritarian societies. There is thus a social or historical dimension that is fundamental.
But in studying this historical dimension, Vargas Illosa makes it clear (to my mind, at least) that he is not simply interested in contingent realities, but that he is trying to bring forth something fundamental about modern man as such – and so, something fundamental about the human dilemma in ITS fundaments.
A magnificent book.
There is, however, readers should be warned, very little in the way of ‘lexis’ – that is, no fireworks of style or language -- which some readers may bemoan, but which all too often is but a camouflage for the absence of meaning. At any rate, that is not Vargas Illosa’s concern in The Feast of the Goat.