J.M. Coetzee Watch #14

Reviews of Summertime

Note: the bulk of the major papers have yet to review this new novel, but some have started to appear. I suspect a "Combined Reviews" entry will be required in the next few weeks.

David Grylis in "The Times".

Who is JM Coetzee? In one sense the answer is obvious: world-famous novelist and writer, twice winner of the Man Booker, winner of the Nobel prize for literature. But in another sense "JM Coetzee" is a persona created by the author, especially in his ­volumes of "fictionalised memoir". ..

...the third volume of the ­trilogy, Summertime, focuses on his return to South Africa, covering 1972 to 1977 when he was "finding his feet as a writer". Like Boyhood and Youth, it refers to "Coetzee" in the third person ("He is the product of a damaged childhood"), thus distancing the autobiographical element. But it adds a startling new dimension of literary artifice: the deployment of a postmortem biographer.

"Dovegreyreader" thinks it "an amazingly clever book, an enduringly, circuitously fascinating novel that I will dwell on for a long time to come, perhaps even unravel much of the essence and fallibility of biography and how it can so easily become a fiction, a story, in the process."

Mark Rubbo on the "Readings" website: "I can't say that I understood Summertime, but it lingers pervasively in my mind. I would love to hear the real Coetzee talk about this book but I doubt that I ever shall ... "

Review of Life and Times of Michael K.

Sam Jordinson is reading all the winners of the Booker prize and reviewing them as he goes for "The Guardian". He finally gets to Life and Times of Michael K.:

All of [the story] is told in fewer than 200 pages. But if it's a thin book, that's not because Coetzee doesn't have a lot to say, or doesn't paint a vivid picture. It's just that his prose is as lean and spare as Michael after months of bugs, pumpkins and sunlight. At its best his writing moves like a cracking whip.

But in spite of such pleasures, I have serious doubts. My main concern is Michael K himself. He's more of a plot device than a real man, and we are constantly reminded how simple Michael is, and how little he understands . Yet he is able frequently to outwit those who would capture him, to work irrigation systems and grow crops, build shelters and -- most jarringly -- speak eloquently and ask endless searching questions.


Coetzee's latest novel Summertime has been longlisted for the 2009 man Booker Prize. You can read some of the reactions to that longlisting in "The Age", "The Australian", "The Financial Times, "The Guardian", "The Telegraph", and by James Bradley.

Coetzee was shortlisted for the Best of the Booker prize, arranged to celebrate the prize's 40th anniversary this year, for his novel Disgrace. The prize was awarded to Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children.


Coetzee visited Oxford, UK, in June and gave a reading from Summertime, the upcoming third volume of his fictionalised autobiography.

You can also read extracts from Summertime in "The New York Review of Books".

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on September 1, 2009 12:13 PM.

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