J.M. Coetzee Watch #3

Judith Shulevitz, writing in "Slate" finds Coetzee's work to be, well, hard work: "In novel after novel, his protagonists are, to put it nicely, unattractive: men and women in late middle age or old, their bodies in breakdown, their manners chilly, their self-pity in full bloom. Plots he doles out in pinches, like salt. His settings are as barren as deserts, even if they're in cities."

Rachel Donadio ponders the question, in "The New York Times", of why Coetzee left South Africa for Australia: "Why would a novelist who has written so powerfully about the land of his birth pack up and leave? Were his 2002 move and his taking of Australian citizenship last year a betrayal of his homeland, or a rejoinder to a country whose new government had denounced one of his most important novels as racist? Was it just another example of the 'white flight' that has sent hundreds of thousands of generally affluent South Africans to other Anglophone countries since the end of apartheid? Or was it a tacit acknowledgment that Coetzee had exhausted his South African material, that the next chapter in the country's history was the rise of the black middle class, and what did an old resistance writer, with his aloof, middle-aged white narrators, know about that?" She comes up with a possible answer involving T.S. Eliot and an essay Coetzee wrote in 1991.

Review of Disgrace

On the "Stains of Blue" weblog: "Its a really enjoyable read, not very long and beautifully written, but I think its one of these books that I'll have to read again because it has so many layers. Its a lot about politics about the situation of the white minority in South Africa after the Apartheid was abolished, about how to deal with a past like that. How different generations deal with it incredibly differently because of their respective experiences. I must say that this part of the story touched me deeply, because my country, too, has a horrible history and I, too, know how the different generations (my grandparents who have actually lived in the war, my parents, who lived with the guilt of their parents, and my generation, who still find it hard to have a real emotional bond to their country) experience these things differently. There is a lot about how to deal with that accumulated guilt and how that affects every relationship."

Review of Inner Workings - Literary Essays, 2000-2005

Bob Mustin, on the "Fire When Ready" weblog: "In the end, Coetzee manages to sketch literary, social, and political impulses into an imaginative rendering of the twentieth century. All collections have their limitations, and Inner Workings has its own. Coetzee's commentary is largely drawn from novel and short story prose, barely touching poetry and the relevance of essays such as his here."

Reviews of Diary of a Bad Year

In "The New Yorker", James Woods warns us not to be taken in by the surface chill of his work, there much greater depth than first appears to be the case. "Coetzee's chaste, exact, ashen prose may look like the very embers of restraint, but it is drawn, again and again, to passionate extremity: an uneducated gardener forced to live like an animal off the South African earth (Life & Times of Michael K); a white woman dying of cancer while a black township burns, and writing, in her last days, a letter of brutal truths to her daughter (Age of Iron); a white woman raped on her farm by a gang of black men, and impregnated (Disgrace); a recent amputee, the victim of a road accident that mangled a leg, helpless in his Adelaide apartment, and awkwardly in love with his Croatian nurse (Slow Man). Coetzee seems compelled to test his celebrated restraint against subjects and ideas whose extremity challenges novelistic representation."

Marco Roth in "The New York Sun": "Diary departs from his earlier work only by inverting the terms of who
suffers and who can offer consolation. Usually, it's the voice of civilization, in the form of a (usually) male narrator, who comes to recognize that he is not alone in the world of his desires. Here, it's the old, bachelor writer, at the mercy of strangers, who resembles the stray dogs in Disgrace. He cannot depend on common humanity, nor does he ever appeal to it."

Allen Barra, in "The Houston Chronicle": "Diary of a Bad Year is so compelling, in fact, that it's not easy to pin down precisely why it doesn't work. Coetzee's technique isn't a gimmick, but the way it is used here sometimes seems gimmicky, a self-consciously Postmodernist presentation of obviously anti-Postmodernist ideas, particularly about the relentless coarsening of language and music in the modern world."

Hilary Mantel in "The New York Review of Books": "In the days of naive photo-tourism, travelers in torrid zones could show us a near-naked and sexually null human being, as wrinkled as a blob of tar on a scorching road, and then surprisingly reveal that he or she was only twenty-seven. Something the same happens with Coetzee's characters: they seem on the brink of extinction, but there's life in the old dogs yet. The strong opinions never flag. Al-Qaeda. Pedophilia. Harold Pinter. Avian influenza, intelligent design, Guantánamo Bay. We are aware that they are edging us from the stock-in-trade of the finely pessimistic yet liberal commentator, and toward Coetzee's familiar and haunted and powerful preoccupations: disgust, disgrace, shame, the painful lives of animals. The arguments above the line are ariously persuasive, invariably robust. Sometimes the opinion offered above the line is slyly taken apart by the characters below it. The miracle of the book is that it is deeply involving, wryly funny, and perfectly easy to read, even when the bifurcated narrative splits into three."

Kathryn Harrison in "The New York Times": "Coetzee's fiction -- and, Diary of a Bad Year suggests, his psyche -- has always manifested a fault line. On one side of the divide is reason, moral and sober, charged with the responsible stewardship of human society. On the other lie the passions, especially lust, that undermine and sometimes trump intellect."

Harry Siegel in the "New York Post": "...while Coetzee is a tremendously gifted craftsman, the material he's assembling is mostly too flimsy for the structure he's attempting to shape."

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 4, 2008 9:59 AM.

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