Coetzee, J.M. 1940- (John Maxwell Coetzee)
Coetzee, J.M. 1940- (John Maxwell Coetzee)
Born February 9, 1940, in Cape Town, South Africa; immigrated to Australia, 2002; son of an attorney (father) and a schoolteacher (mother); married Philippa Jubber, 1963 (divorced, 1980); partner of Dor- othy Driver; children: (with Jubber) Nicholas, Gisela. Education: University of Cape Town, B.A., 1960, M.A., 1961; University of Texas, Austin, Ph.D., 1969.
Home—Adelaide, South Australia, Australia. Agent—David Higham Associates Ltd., 5-8 Lower John St., Golden Sq., London W1F 9HA, England.
International Business Machines (IBM), London, England, applications programmer, 1962-63; International Computers, Bracknell, Berkshire, England, systems programmer, 1964-65; State University of New York at Buffalo, NY, assistant professor, 1968-71, Butler Professor of English, 1984, 1986; University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa, lecturer in English, 1972-82, professor of general literature, 1983—, became Distinguished Professor of Literature; University of Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, honorary position. Johns Hopkins University, Hinkley Professor of English, 1986, 1989; Harvard University, visiting professor of English, 1991.
International Comparative Literature Association, Modern Language Association of America.
Central News Agency (CAN) Literary Award, 1977, for In the Heart of the Country; CNA Literary Award, James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and Geoffrey Faber Award, all 1980, all for Waiting for the Barbarians; CNA Literary Award, Booker Prize, and Prix Femina Etranger, all 1984, all for The Life and Times of Michael K.; D.Litt., University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, 1985; Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society, 1987; Sunday Express Book of the Year Prize, 1990, for Age of Iron; Premio Modello, 1994, and Irish Times International Fiction Prize, 1995, for The Master of Petersburg; Booker Prize, National Book League and Commonwealth Writer's Prize: Best Novel, for Disgrace; Life Fellow, University of Cape Town; Lannan Literary Award, 1998; Nobel Prize in Literature, 2003.
Dusklands (contains two novellas, The Vietnam Project and The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee), Ravan Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1974, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1985.
From the Heart of the Country, Harper (New York, NY), 1977, published as In the Heart of the Country, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1977.
Waiting for the Barbarians, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1980, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1982.
The Life and Times of Michael K., Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1983, Viking (New York, NY), 1984.
Foe, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.
Age of Iron, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
The Master of Petersburg, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.
(With others) The Lives of Animals, edited with an introduction by Amy Gutmann, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1999.
Disgrace, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.
Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Slow Man, Viking (New York, NY), 2005.
Diary of a Bad Year, Viking (New York, NY), 2007.
(Translator) Marcellus Emants, A Posthumous Confession, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1976.
(Translator) Wilma Stockenstroem, The Expedition to the Baobab Tree, Faber (London, England), 1983.
(Editor, with Andre Brink) A Land Apart: A Contemporary South African Reader, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.
Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, edited by David Attwell, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1992.
(With Graham Swift, John Lanchester, and Ian Jack) Food: The Vital Stuff, Penguin (New York, NY), 1995.
Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1996.
Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.
(With Bill Reichblum) What Is Realism?, Bennington College (Bennington, VT), 1997.
(With Dan Cameron and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev) William Kentridge, Phaidon (London, England), 1999.
Stranger Shores: Literary Essays, 1986-1999, Viking (New York, NY), 2001.
The Humanities in Africa/Die Geisteswissenschaften in Afrika, Carl Friedrich von Siemens Stiftung (Munich, Germany), 2001.
Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
(Translator and author of introduction) Landscape with Rowers: Poetry from the Netherlands, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2004.
Inner Workings: Literary Essays, 2000-2005, introduction by Derek Attridge, Viking (New York, NY), 2007.
Work represented in anthologies, including African Compass: New Writing from Southern Africa, Spearhead (Claremont, South Africa), 2005, and African Road: New Writing from Southern Africa, Spearhead (Claremont, South Africa), 2006; contributor of introduction, The Confusions of Young Törless, by Robert Musil, Penguin (New York, NY), 2001. Contributor of reviews to periodicals, including New York Review of Books.
An adaptation of In the Heart of the Country was filmed as Dust, by ICA (England), 1986; Waiting for the Barbarians was adapted as an opera by Philip Glass, libretto by Christopher Hampton, produced at the Erfurt Theater (Erfurt, Germany), 2005, and in Austin, TX, 2007; Disgrace is being adapted for film, projected release of 2007-08.
J.M. Coetzee, recipient of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature, explores the implications of oppressive societies on the lives of their inhabitants, often using his native South Africa as a backdrop. Though many of his stories are set in South Africa, Coetzee's lessons are relevant to all countries, as Books Abroad contributor Ursula A. Barnett wrote of Dusklands, which contains the novellas The Vietnam Project and The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee. "By publishing the two stories side by side," Barnett remarked, "Coetzee has deliberately given a wider horizon to his South African subject. Left on its own, The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee would immediately have suggested yet another tale of African black-white confrontation to the reader."
The Vietnam Project introduces Eugene Dawn, employed to help the Americans win the Vietnam War through psychological warfare. The assignment eventually costs Dawn his sanity. The title character of The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee, a fictionalized ancestor of the author, is an explorer and conqueror in the 1760s who destroys an entire South African tribe over his perception that the people have humiliated him through their indifference and lack of fear. H.M. Tiffin, writing in Contemporary Novelists, found that the novellas in Dusklands are "juxtaposed to offer a scarifying account of the fear and paranoia of imperialists and aggressors and the horrifying ways in which dominant regimes, ‘empires,’ commit violence against ‘the other’ through repression, torture, and genocide."
Coetzee's second novel, In the Heart of the Country, also explores racial conflict and mental deterioration. A spinster daughter, Magda, tells the story in diary form, recalling the consequences of her father's seduction of his African workman's wife. Both jealous of and repulsed by the relationship, Magda murders her father, then begins her own affair with the workman. The integrity of Magda's story eventually proves questionable.
Coetzee followed In the Heart of the Country with Waiting for the Barbarians, in which he, "with laconic brilliance, articulates one of the basic problems of our time—how to understand … [the] mentality behind the brutality and injustice," Anthony Burgess wrote in New York. In the novel a magistrate attempting to protect the peaceful nomadic people of his district is imprisoned and tortured by the army that arrives at the frontier town to destroy the "barbarians" on behalf of the Empire. The horror of what he has seen and experienced affects the magistrate in inalterable ways, causing changes in his personality that he cannot understand. Doris Grumbach, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, found Waiting for the Barbarians to be a book with "universal reference," an allegory that can be applied to innumerable historical and contemporary situations. "Very soon it is apparent that the story, terrifying and unforgettable, is about injustice and barbarism inflicted everywhere by ‘civilized’ people upon those it invades, occupies, governs."
Foe, a retelling of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, marked a transitional stage for Coetzee, according to Maureen Nicholson in West Coast Review. Nicholson found many areas in which Foe differs from Coetzee's previous work. "Coetzee initially appeared to me to have all but abandoned his usual concerns and literary techniques" in Foe, Nicholson commented. "I was mistaken. More importantly, though, I was worried about why he has chosen now to write this kind of book; I found his shift of focus and technique ominous. Could he no longer sustain the courage he had demonstrated, turning instead to a radically interiorized narrative?" Nicholson concluded: "Perhaps Foe is best viewed as a pause for recapitulation and evaluation, transitional in Coetzee's development as a writer." Ashton Nichols, however, writing in Southern Humanities Review, found that Coetzee had not strayed far from his usual topics. "Like all of Coetzee's earlier works, Foe retains a strong sense of its specifically South African origins, a sociopolitical subtext that runs along just below the surface of the narrative," Nichols remarked. The reviewer emphasized Coetzee's role as "an archeologist of the imagination, an excavator of language who testifies to the powers and weaknesses of the words he discovers," a role Coetzee has performed in each of his novels, including Foe. Central to this idea are the mute Friday, whose tongue was cut out by slavers, and Susan Barton, the castaway who struggles to communicate with him. Daniel Foe, the author who endeavors to tell Barton's story, is also affected by Friday's speechlessness. Both Barton and Foe recognize their duty to provide a means by which Friday can relate the story of his escape from the fate of his fellow slaves who drowned, still shackled, when their ship sank; but both also question their right to speak for him. "The author, whether Foe or Coetzee,… wonders if he has any right to speak for the one person whose story most needs to be told," Nichols noted. "Friday is … the tongueless voice of millions."
In Age of Iron Coetzee addresses the crisis of South Africa in direct, rather than allegorical, form. The story of Mrs. Curren, a retired professor dying of cancer and attempting to deal with the realities of apartheid in Cape Town, Age of Iron is "an unrelenting yet gorgeously written parable of modern South Africa … a story filled with foreboding and violence about a land where even the ability of children to love is too great a luxury," Michael Dorris wrote in Chicago Tribune Books. As her disease and the chaos of her homeland progress, Mrs. Curren feels the effects her society has had on its black members; her realization that "now my eyes are open and I can never close them again" forms the basis for her growing rage against the system. After her housekeeper's son and his friend are murdered in her home, Mrs. Curren runs away and hides beneath an overpass, leaving her vulnerable to attack by a gang. She is rescued by Vercueil, a street person she has gradually allowed into her house and her life, who returns her to her home and tends to her needs as the cancer continues its destruction. The book takes the form of a letter from Mrs. Curren to her daughter, living in the United States because she cannot tolerate apartheid. "Dying is traditionally a process of withdrawal from the world," Sean French commented in New Statesman and Society. "Coetzee tellingly reverses this and it is in her last weeks that [Mrs. Curren] first truly goes out in the baffling society she has lived in." As her life ends, Mrs. Curren's urgency to correct the wrongs she never before questioned intensifies. "In this chronicle of an aged white woman coming to understand, and of the unavoidable claims of her country's black youth, Mr. Coetzee has created a superbly realized novel whose truths cut to the bone," Lawrence Thornton wrote in the New York Times Book Review.
In Coetzee's next novel, The Master of Petersburg, the central character is the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, but the plot is only loosely based on his real life. In Coetzee's story the novelist goes to St. Petersburg upon the death of his stepson, Pavel. He is devastated by grief for the young man and begins an inquiry into his death. He discovers that Pavel was involved with a group of nihilists and was probably murdered either by their leader or by the police. During the course of his anguished investigation, Dostoevsky's creative processes are exposed; Coetzee shows him beginning work on his novel The Possessed.
In real life, Dostoevsky did have a stepson named Pavel; but he was a foppish idler, a constant source of annoyance and embarrassment to the writer. The younger man outlived his stepfather by some twenty years, and as Dostoevsky died, he would not allow Pavel near his deathbed. Some reviewers were untroubled by Coetzee's manipulation of the facts. "This is not, after all, a book about the real Dostoevsky; his name, and some facts connected to it, form a mask behind which Coetzee enacts a drama of parenthood, politics and authorship," Harriett Gilbert explained in New Statesman and Society. She went on to praise Coetzee's depiction of "the barbed-wire coils of grief and anger, of guilt, of sexual rivalry and envy, that Fyodor Mikhailovich negotiates as he enters Pavel's hidden life. From the moment he presses his face to the lad's white suit to inhale his smell, to when he sits down, picks up his pen and commits a paternal novelist's betrayal, his pain is depicted with such harsh clarity that pity is burnt away. If the novel begins uncertainly, it ends with scorching self-confidence."
Coetzee's nonfiction works include White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa, Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, and Giving Offense: Es- says on Censorship. In White Writing the author "collects his critical reflections on the mixed fortunes of ‘white writing’ in South Africa, ‘a body of writing [not] different in nature from black writing,’ but ‘generated by the concerns of people no longer European, yet not African,’" Shaun Irlam observed in MLN. The seven essays included in the book discuss writings from the late seventeenth century to the present, through which Coetzee examines the foundations of modern South African writers' attitudes. Irlam described the strength of White Writing as its ability "to interrogate succinctly and lucidly the presuppositions inhabiting the language with which ‘white writers’ have addressed and presumed to ventriloquize Africa." In Doubling the Point, a collection of critical essays on Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, D.H. Lawrence, Nadine Gordimer, and others, Coetzee presents a "literary autobiography," according to Ann Irvine in a Library Journal review. Rounding out the collection are discussions of issues including censorship and popular culture, and interviews with the author preceding each section.
Giving Offense was Coetzee's first collection of essays in nearly ten years, since White Writing appeared. The essays collected in Giving Offense were written over a period of about six years. Here Coetzee—a writer quite familiar with the varying forms of censorship and the writer's response to them—attempts to complicate what he calls "the two tired images of the writer under censorship: the moral giant under attack from hordes of moral pygmies and the helpless innocent persecuted by a mighty state apparatus." Coetzee discusses three tyrannical regimes: Nazism, Communism, and apartheid; and, drawing upon his training as an academic scholar as well as his experiences as a fiction writer, he argues that the censor and the writer have often been "brother-enemies, mirror images one of the other" in their struggle to claim the truth of their position.
In Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life, Coetzee experiments with autobiography. Boyhood, written in the third person, "reads more like a novella than a true autobiography. Coetzee develops his character, a young boy on the verge of adolescence, through a richly detailed interior monolog," wrote Denise S. Sticha in Library Journal. He recounts his life growing up in Worcester, South Africa, where he moved with his family from Cape Town after his father's latest business failure. There, he observes the contradictions of apartheid and the subtle distinctions of class and ethnicity with a precociously writerly eye. Coetzee, an Afrikaner whose parents chose to speak English, finds himself between worlds, neither properly Afrikaner nor English. Throughout his boyhood, he encounters the stupid brutalities inflicted by arbitrary divisions between white and black, Native and Coloured, Afrikaner and English.
Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II begins six years after Boyhood ends. According to New Yorker critic John Updike, the sequel "lacks the bucolic bright spots and familial furies of Boyhood but has an overriding, suspenseful issue: when and how will our hero find his vocation, evident to us readers if not yet to him, as a world-class novelist?" Coetzee's narrator leaves South Africa to pursue his education in London, where, despite his desire to write poetry, he finds work as a computer programmer and drifts through a series of affairs. As Hazel Rochman noted in Booklist, "this wry, honest, edgy memoir is the portrait of the young artist as a failure." "Coetzee's delicate self-mockery threatens to become condescending," Updike remarked, "and Youth's repeated rhetorical questions verge on burlesque." But Updike also observed that "the suspense attached to this stalled life is real, at least for any reader who has himself sought to find his or her voice and material amid the crosscurrents of late modernism. Coetzee, with his unusual intelligence and deliberation, confronted problems many a writer, more ebulliently full of himself, rushes past without seeing." As Penelope Mesic noted in Book, the narrator's growing awareness of the world's complexity is at the heart of the work: "He stands like a man on the edge of a great abyss, amid obscurity, fear, self-doubt and confusion. To discard what he has been told and act in accordance with his own true emotional responses to the world—to women, to cricket, to books, to political injustice—is something he is just learning to do. In that growing sense of authenticity lies the power that will carry him forward, to the passionately honest novels, including The Life and Times of Michael K. and Disgrace, that he will eventually write."
The Lives of Animals is a unique effort by Coetzee, incorporating his own lectures on animal rights with the fictional story of Elizabeth Costello, a novelist obsessed by the horrors of human cruelty to animals. In this "wonderfully inventive and inconclusive book," as Stephen H. Webb described it in Christian Century, Coetzee poses questions about the morality of vegetarianism and the guilt of those who use animal products. But his arguments are not simplistic: he wonders, for example, if vegetarians are really trying to save animals, or only trying to put themselves in a morally superior position to other humans. The character of Elizabeth Costello is revealed as deeply flawed, and the author's ambiguity about her "forces us to think," added Webb. Are her lectures "academic hyperbole and prophetic provocation? Are we meant to feel sorry for her or, angered by her poor reception, to stand up and defend her and her cause?" Following the novella, there are responses to Costello's arguments from four real-life scholars who have written about animals: Barbara Smuts, Peter Singer, Marjorie Garber, and Wendy Doniger. The sum of the book, wrote Marlene Chamberlain in Booklist, is valuable "for Coetzee fans and others interested in the links between philosophy, reason, and the rights of nonhumans."
Disgrace, Coetzee's next novel, is a strong statement on the political climate in post-apartheid South Africa. The main character, David Lurie, is an English professor at the University of Cape Town. He sees himself as an aging, but still handsome, Lothario. He has seduced many young women in his day, but an affair with one of his students finally proves his undoing. Charged with sexual harassment, he leaves his post in disgrace, seeking refuge at the small farm owned by his daughter, Lucy. Lucy and David are anything but alike. While his world is refined and highly intellectualized, Lucy works at hard physical labor in simple surroundings. David has allowed his sexual desires to lead him, while Lucy is living a life of voluntary celibacy. While David was in an elitist position, Lucy works alongside her black neighbors. David's notions of orderliness are overturned when three men come to the farm, set him afire, and rape Lucy. Father and daughter survive the ordeal, only to learn that Lucy has become pregnant. Eventually, in order to protect herself and her simple way of life, she consents to become the third wife in her neighbor's polygamous family, even though he may have arranged the attack on her in order to gain control of her property.
The complex story of Disgrace drew praise from critics. "The novel's many literary allusions are remarkably cohesive on the subject of spiritual alienation: Lucifer, Cain, the tragedy of birth in Wordsworth—there is a full and even fulsome repertoire of soullessness," remarked Sarah Ruden in Christian Century. "The same theme can be found in many modernist and postmodernist writers, but Coetzee cancels the usual pretentious and self-pitying overtones." Antioch Review contributor John Kennedy noted: "In its honest and relentless probing of character and motive … this novel secures Coetzee's place among today's major novelists…. The impulses and crimes of passion, the inadequacies of justice, and the rare possibilities for redemption are played out on many levels in this brilliantly crafted book." The author's deft handling of the ambiguities of his story was also praised by Rebecca Saunders, who in the Review of Contemporary Fiction warned that Disgrace is "not for the ethically faint of heart." Saunders felt Coetzee has "strewn nettles in the bed of the comfortable social conscience," and his book is written in the style "we have come to expect" from him, "at once taciturn and blurting out the unspeakable."
Insight into the workings of Coetzee's mind is afforded through Stranger Shores: Literary Essays, 1986-1999, which collects twenty-six essays of literary criticism by the author, focusing on authors such as Franz Kafka, Salman Rushdie, Nadine Gordimer, and Jorge Luis Borges. "These are not puff pieces," warned James Shapiro in New York Times Book Review. In his criticism, "Coetzee wields a sharp scalpel, carefully exposing the stylistic flaws, theoretical shortcuts and, on occasion, bad faith of writers he otherwise admires." An Economist contributor found the tone of the book "dry tending to arid," and Alberto Manguel in Spectator suggested that the collection lacked a needed "touch of passion." Yet Shapiro thought that Stranger Shores is a fine model of "blunt, elegant and unflinching criticism at a time when novelists tend to go rather easy when reviewing their colleagues." Finally, Shapiro concluded, Stranger Shores is valuable for the "light it casts on a stage in the intellectual journey of one of the most cerebral and consequential writers of our day."
Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons "blurs the bounds of fiction and nonfiction while furthering the author's exploration of urgent moral and aesthetic questions," according to a critic in Publishers Weekly. In Elizabeth Costello, the title character, an aging Australian writer best known for a feminist novel she wrote in the 1960s, delivers a series of formal talks addressing issues such as animal rights and the nature of evil. A contributor in Kirkus Reviews noted that "Coetzee has here reimagined in semifictional form several of his recent nonfiction essays and lectures" and called the work "a disappointing hybrid that cannot, except by the loosest possible definition, be called fiction." New Statesman contributor Roy Robins believed that the work "has neither the gravity and compulsion of Coetzee's best fiction, nor the precision and intensity of his finest critical writing," Keir Graff offered a different opinion in Booklist, stating, "Coetzee may be exploding the genre, but Elizabeth Costello has real novelistic force."
In 2003 Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In announcing its selection, the Swedish Academy stated in Africa News Service, "J.M. Coetzee's novels are characterised by their well-crafted composition, pregnant dialogue, and analytical brilliance. But at the same time he is a scrupulous doubter, ruthless in his criticism of the cruel rationalism and cosmetic morality of western civilisation." Per Wästberg, a member of the Swedish Academy, observed: "Coetzee sees through the obscene poses and false pomp of history, lending voice to the silenced and the despised. Restrained but stubborn, he defends the ethical value of poetry, literature and imagination."
In addition to his writing, Coetzee has produced translations of works in Dutch, German, French, and Afrikaans, served as editor for works by others, and taught at the University of Cape Town. "He's a rare phenomenon, a writer-scholar," Ian Glenn, a colleague of Coetzee, told Washington Post contributor Allister Sparks. "Even if he hadn't had a career as a novelist he would have had a very considerable one as an academic." Coetzee told Sparks that he finds writing burdensome. "I don't like writing so I have to push myself," he said. "It's bad if I write but it's worse if I don't." Coetzee hesitates to discuss his works in progress and views his opinion of his published works as no more important than that of anyone else. "The writer is simply another reader when it is a matter of discussing the books he has already written," he told Sparks. "They don't belong to him anymore and he has nothing privileged to say about them—while the book he is engaged in writing is far too private and important a matter to be talked about."
The protagonist of Coetzee's novel Slow Man is Paul Rayment, a sixty-year-old Frenchman living in Australia. He has tried to return to France but found it unwelcoming. Instead, he takes photographs of native Australians whose families have lived in one place long enough to know what it means to be home. Rayment is divorced with no children and lives in an apartment that contains the furniture left by the previous tenant. Rayment is riding his bike when he is hit by a car, and when he wakes in a hospital, he discovers that because his knee has been shattered, his leg has been amputated just above it. Salon.com Web site reviewer Hillary Frey wrote: "Rayment is sent home fairly quickly after his surgery, but because this is a Coetzee novel, what follows is not a tale of coming to terms, of adaptation, of a cranky, stubborn man who finds a new lease on life after nearly losing it. To be sure, Rayment is stubborn, but not in any amusing way."
Rayment refuses to accept his fate and declines a prosthesis. He therefore cannot walk and remains indoors, growing more and more depressed. He goes through a series of temps who care for him, but he can't tolerate their condescending manner. With the arrival of Marijana Jokic, a Croatian immigrant, things change. She does not talk down to him or treat him like a child. She washes his stump and respectfully cares for him, and soon Rayment is in love. He offers Marijana bribes to stay and says he will help care for her children. He is especially fond of her sixteen-year-old son, Drago. As his love becomes more evident, however, she begins to retreat. Coetzee brings in Elizabeth Costello to move the plot along, and she attempts to motivate him to pursue an older woman he once photographed. He is suspicious of the writer's motives, particularly when he finds notes about their lives that he suspects may be used in writing her next book.
In reviewing Slow Man for the London Times Online Web site, Sarah Emily Miano wrote that it "may lack the range of Coetzee's masterpieces Disgrace and [The Life and Times of Michael K.], but it is a sensational act of double-exposure: on one side a renowned writer at the close of her career, feeling disillusioned with her own art; on the other, a man at the end of his sexual life, coming to terms with his own mortality."
Maggie Gee began her London Times Online Web site review of Diary of a Bad Year by writing: "Do not miss this book, which reads almost like a man saying goodbye, restlessly surveying his work and thanking the artists who have given him pleasure—composers such as Bach and novelists such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, the ‘great-souled’ Russians to whom its narrator defers." Gee noted that this novel, like Disgrace, is about shame, but in the case of [Diary of a Bad Year,] it is the shame borne by the people whose countries attacked Iraq and created the "War on Terror." The narrator of the ongoing story is referred to merely as C.
The pages of the book are divided, with fifty-five essays written since 2001 taking up the top halves and a first-person narrative filling the bottoms. About two dozen pages into the book, a third section is added to the bottom, which contains the notes of the young woman who becomes the narrator's typist as he writes for a German publisher that is putting together a book of "strong opinions." C meets Anya, the beautiful young woman in a skimpy red dress who will become his typist, in the laundry room of his apartment building. In order to be close to her, he offers her the job, and since she is out of work, she accepts. She talks to C more than she types, and when her partner Alan, a vicious investment banker, wants her to help him steal C's savings, she moves to another city, and C remains a lonely old man.
London Telegraph Online Web site reviewer Caroline Moore wrote: "Desolation does not utterly triumph, however. Anya—who starts as a caricature, full of pert remarks as she flaunts her ‘delicious behind’—becomes a more complex, strong and touching character. The halting ‘amoro-dolorous’ footnoted relationship between her and C becomes a touchstone, of sorts; and Coetzee's realisation of her character offers a small, warm release into fiction—or into imagining the mind of another human being."
Age Online Web site reviewer Peter Craven described Diary of a Bad Year as being "a ravishingly beautiful book made up of the most ordinary things in the world (an old man's timid sexual appreciation, a young girl's capacity to flirt and cocktease, a chancer's desire to hook onto lazy money) and makes them into a thing of music and magic that succeeds in disclosing a quite disarmingly grave and poignant apprehension of the mystery of life, but remains, at the same time, a comedy of human happenstance."
In Inner Workings: Literary Essays, 2000-2005, Coetzee studies both American and European writers and their works. Many of the essays were originally written for the New York Review of Books, He examines Faulkner's perceptions of the South, Philip Roth's The Plot against America, and Arthur Miller's screenplay for the film The Misfits. Many of the essays focus on one theme. For example, in his essay on Walt Whitman, he considers the relationship between Whitman's sexuality and his art.
In a Spectator review, Anita Brookner raised the question of Coetzee's truthfulness, writing: "This is a complex matter with Coetzee, because he himself is so inscrutable…. If Coetzee the novelist flirts with self-disclosure, Coetzee the critic adopts the opposite tack: compared with many critics, he gives little of his own opinions and prejudices away. But it is wholly characteristic of this unpredictable writer that this should be the case. For one thing is certain about Coetzee: we will never be entirely sure what he thinks."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Attwell, David, J.M. Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1993.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 117, 1997.
Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 225: South African Writers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Gallagher, Susan V., A Story of South Africa: J.M. Coetzee's Fiction in Context, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1991.
Goddard, Kevin, J.M. Coetzee: A Bibliography, National English Literary Museum (Grahamstown, South Africa), 1990.
Head, Dominic, J.M. Coetzee, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Huggan, Graham, and Stephen Watson, editors, Critical Perspectives on J.M. Coetzee, introduction by Nadine Gordimer, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Kossew, Sue, Pen and Power: A Post-Colonial Reading of J.M. Coetzee and Andre Brink, Rodopi (Atlanta, GA), 1996.
Kossew, Sue, editor, Critical Essays on J.M. Coetzee, G.K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1998.
Moses, Michael Valdez, editor, The Writings of J.M. Coetzee, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1994.
African Business, November, 1999, Stephen Williams, review of Disgrace, p. 42.
Africa News Service, October 3, 2003, "Coetzee Celebrates Nobel, in Private"; October 6, 2003, "Coetzee Swells South Africa's Nobel Haul"; December 22, 2003, "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2003—Presentation to J.M. Coetzee."
America, February 20, 2006, Mary Donnarumma Sharnic, review of Slow Man, p. 23.
Antioch Review, summer, 2000, John Kennedy, review of Disgrace, p. 375; winter, 2005, Barbara Beckerman Davis, review of Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons, p. 189.
Atlantic, March, 2000, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of Disgrace, p. 116.
Book, July-August, 2002, Penelope Mesic, review of Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II, pp. 70-71.
Booklist, March 15, 1999, Marlene Chamberlain, review of The Lives of Animals, p. 1262; November 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Disgrace, p. 579; March 15, 2001, review of Disgrace, p. 1362; August, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Stranger Shores: Literary Essays, 1986-1999, p. 2075; June 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Youth, p. 1666; September 15, 2003, Keir Graff, review of Elizabeth Costello, p. 180; February 1, 2004, Ray Olson, review of Landscape with Rowers: Poetry from the Netherlands, p. 943; July, 2005, Brad Hooper, review of Slow Man, p. 1875; July 1, 2007, Donna Seaman, review of Inner Workings: Literary Essays, 2000-2005, p. 21.
Books Abroad, spring, 1976, Ursula A. Barnett, review of Dusklands.
Boston Globe, October 2, 2005, Gail Caldwell, review of Slow Man.
Choice, November, 1999, S.H. Webb, review of The Lives of Animals, p. 552.
Christian Century, May 19, 1999, Stephen H. Webb, review of The Lives of Animals, p. 569; August 16, 2000, Sarah Ruden, review of Disgrace, p. 840; January 23, 2007, Trudy Bush, review of Slow Man, p. 124.
Christian Science Monitor, November 18, 1999, review of Disgrace, p. 12; September 27, 2005, Yvonne Zipp, review of Slow Man.
Commentary, March, 2000, Carol Iannone, review of Disgrace, p. 62.
Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, spring, 2001, review of Foe, p. 309.
Economist (U.S.), December 4, 1999, review of Disgrace, p. S4; September 15, 2001, review of Stranger Shores, p. 93; March 16, 2002, review of Youth.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 2, 1999, review of Disgrace, p. D18; November 27, 1999, review of Disgrace, p. D49.
Harper's, June, 1999, review of The Master of Petersburg, p. 76; July, 2004, Jennifer Szalai, review of Elizabeth Costello, p. 85, Paul West, review of Elizabeth Costello, p. 89.
Hudson Review, summer, 2000, Thomas Filbin, review of Disgrace, p. 333; Harold Fromm, review of The Lives of Animals, p. 336.
Kenyon Review, winter, 2005, David H. Lynn, review of Elizabeth Costello, p. 124.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1999, review of The Lives of Animals, p. 264; May 1, 2002, review of Youth, p. 631; September 1, 2003, review of Elizabeth Costello, pp. 1087-1088; July 1, 2005, review of Slow Man; April 15, 2007, review of Inner Workings; October 15, 2007, review of Diary of a Bad Year.
Lancet, December 3, 2005, Terry Eagleton, review of Slow Man, p. 1917.
Library Journal, June 1, 1992, Ann Irvine, review of Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, p. 124; September 1, 1997, Denise S. Sticha, review of Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life, p. 181; December, 1999, Marc A. Kloszewski, review of Disgrace, p. 182; July, 2001, Gene Shaw, review of Stranger Shores, p. 89; May 15, 2002, Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., review of Youth, p. 97; October 1, 2003, Barbara Love, review of Elizabeth Costello, p. 114; October 15, 2003, Louis McKee, review of Landscape with Rowers, pp. 72-73; September 1, 2005, Lawrence Rungren, review of Slow Man, p. 128; April 15, 2007, Rebecca Bollen Manalac, review of Inner Workings, p. 89; October 1, 2007, Leslie Patterson, review of Diary of a Bad Year, p. 56.
London Review of Books, October 14, 1999, reviews of The Lives of Animals and Disgrace, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 23, 1982, Doris Grumbach, review of Waiting for the Barbarians, p. 4; December 12, 1999, review of Disgrace, p. 2.
MLN, December, 1988, Shaun Irlam, review of White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa, pp. 1147-1150.
Nation, March 6, 2000, Joseph McElroy, review of Disgrace, p. 30; November 14, 2005, Pankaj Mishra, review of Slow Man.
Natural History, June, 1999, Steven N. Austad, review of The Lives of Animals, p. 18.
New Leader, December 13, 1999, Brooke Allen, review of Disgrace, p. 27.
New Republic, December 20, 1999, review of Disgrace, p. 42.
New Statesman, October 18, 1999, Douglas McCabe, review of Disgrace, p. 57; October 25, 1999, Jason Cowley, "The Ideal Chronicler of the New South Africa, He Deserves to Make Literary History as a Double Booker Winner," p. 18; November 29, 1999, review of Disgrace, pp. 79-80; September 15, 2003, Roy Robins, review of Elizabeth Costello, pp. 50-51; October 13, 2003, Jason Cowley, "Despite a Booker Nomination and a Nobel Prize, These Writers, Unheard in Their Own Land, Feel Oppressed by Emptiness," pp. 22-24; September 12, 2005, Benjamin Markovits, review of Slow Man, p. 51.
New Statesman and Society, September 21, 1990, Sean French, review of Age of Iron, p. 40; February 25, 1994, Harriett Gilbert, review of The Master of Petersburg, p. 41.
Newsweek, November 15, 1999, review of Disgrace, p. 90.
Newsweek International, November 8, 1999, "South Africa's Prize Winner," p. 72.
New York, April 26, 1982, Anthony Burgess, review of Waiting for the Barbarians, pp. 88, 90.
New Yorker, July 5, 1999, review of The Lives of Animals, p. 80; November 15, 1999, review of Disgrace, p. 110; July 15, 2002, John Updike, review of Youth.
New York Review of Books, June 29, 2000, Ian Hacking, review of The Lives of Animals, p. 20; January 20, 2000, John Banville, review of Disgrace, p. 23.
New York Times Book Review, September 23, 1990, Lawrence Thornton, review of Age of Iron, p. 7; November 28, 1999, review of Disgrace, p. 7; December 5, 1999, review of Disgrace, p. 8; September 16, 2001, James Shapiro, review of Stranger Shores, p. 29; July 14, 2002, review of Youth, p. 22; October 2, 2005, Ward Just, review of Slow Man, p. 20.
Novel, fall, 2000, Derek Attridge, review of Disgrace, p. 98.
Observer (London, England), July 18, 1999, review of Disgrace, p. 13.
Poetry, April, 2005, Dan Chiasson, review of Landscape with Rowers, p. 75.
Publishers Weekly, February 8, 1999, review of The Lives of Animals, p. 193; November 1, 1999, Jean Richardson, "Coetzee Wins the Booker Again," p. 15; November 22, 1999, review of Disgrace, p. 42; September 22, 2003, review of Elizabeth Costello, pp. 80-81; August 29, 2005, review of Slow Man, p. 35; September 17, 2007, review of Diary of a Bad Year, p. 31.
Quadrant, December, 1999, Paul Monk, review of Disgrace, p. 80.
Quarterly Review of Biology, June, 2001, David Fraser, review of The Lives of Animals, p. 215; May 6, 2002, review of Youth, p. 44.
Queen's Quarterly, fall, 2004, Rosemary Jolly, "Exploding the Rules of the Game: J.M. Coetzee Writing South Africa," p. 462.
Research in African Literatures, winter, 2005, Kimberly Wedeven Segall, review of Disgrace, p. 40.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 2000, Rebecca Saunders, review of Disgrace, p. 167; spring, 2002, E. Kim Stone, review of Stranger Shores, p. 151.
San Jose Mercury News, September 28, 2005, Charles Matthews, review of Slow Man.
Sewanee Review, fall, 2000, Merritt Moseley, review of Disgrace, p. 648; summer, 2001, John Reese Moore, review of The Lives of Animals, p. 462.
Southern Humanities Review, fall, 1987, Ashton Nichols, review of Foe, pp. 384-386.
Spectator, April 3, 1999, Antony Rouse, review of The Lives of Animals, p. 41; July 10, 1999, Katie Grant, review of Disgrace, p. 34; November 20, 1999, review of Disgrace, p. 47; September 22, 2001, Alberto Manguel, review of Stranger Shores, p. 46; September 10, 2005, Anita Brookner, review of Slow Man, p. 45; March 24, 2007, William Skidelsky, review of Inner Workings.
Time, November 29, 1999, review of Disgrace, p. 82.
Time International (South Pacific edition), November 15, 1999, Elizabeth Gleick, review of Disgrace, p. 96; September 12, 2005, Michael Fitzgerald, review of Slow Man, p. 62.
Times Literary Supplement, April 16, 1999, Maren Meinhardt, review of The Lives of Animals, p. 25; June 25, 1999, Ranti Williams, review of Disgrace, p. 23; October 5, 2001, Michael Gorra, review of Stranger Shores, p. 23.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), September 16, 1990, Michael Dorris, review of Age of Iron, p. 3.
Wall Street Journal, November 26, 1999, Philip Connors, review of Disgrace, p. W8; July 5, 2002, Merle Rubin, review of Youth, p. W7.
Washington Post, October 29, 1983, Allison Sparks, interview.
Washington Post Book World, September 25, 2005, Ron Charles, review of Slow Man, p. 6.
West Coast Review, spring, 1987, Maureen Nicholson, review of Foe, pp. 52-58.
Whole Earth Review, summer, 1999, review of The Lives of Animals, p. 13.
World Literature Today, winter, 1996, "An Interview with J.M. Coetzee," pp. 107-110; winter, 2000, review of Disgrace, p. 228; spring, 2002, J. Roger Kurtz, review of Stranger Shores, p. 249; September, 2004, Harald Leusmann, "J.M. Coetzee's; Cultural Critique," p. 60.
Age Online (Australia), http://www.theage.com.au/ (August 28, 2007), Peter Craven, review of Diary of a Bad Year.
Contemporary Writers in the UK,http://www.contemporarywriters.com/ (December 13, 2007), biography.
Financial Times Online (London, England), http://www.ft.com/ (September 22, 2007), Daniel Swift, review of Diary of a Bad Year.
Guardian Online (London, England), http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (September 17, 2005), Christopher Hope, review of Slow Man; (September 1, 2007), Christopher Tayler, review of Diary of a Bad Year.
Independent Online (London, England), http://arts.independent.co.uk/ (August 31, 2007), Boyd Tonkin, review of Diary of a Bad Year; (September 2, 2007), Justin Cartwright, review of Diary of a Bad Year.
New Humanist Online (London, England), http://newhumanist.org.uk/ (December 13, 2007), Stan Cohen, review of Diary of a Bad Year.
Nobel Prize Web site,http://nobelprize.org/ (December 13, 2007), biography.
Observer Online (London, England), http://observer.guardian.co.uk/ (September 18, 2005, Tim Adams, review of Slow Man; (August 26, 2007), Adam Mars-Jones, review of Diary of a Bad Year.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (October 1, 2005), Hillary Frey, review of Slow Man.
SF Station,http://www.sfstation.com/ (September 30, 2005), Scott Esposito, review of Slow Man.
Spectator Online (London, England), http://www.spectator.co.uk/ (September 5, 2007), Sebastian Smee, review of Diary of a Bad Year.
Telegraph Online (London, England), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ (April 9, 2005), review of Slow Man; (November 9, 2005), review of Slow Man; (August 25, 2007), Lewis Jones, review of Diary of a Bad Year; (September 13, 2007), Caroline Moore, review of Diary of a Bad Year.
Times Online (London, England), http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/ (August 28, 2005), Robert MacFarlane, review of Slow Man; (September 3, 2005), Sarah Emily Miano, review of Slow Man; (August 22, 2007), Elizabeth Lowry, review of Diary of a Bad Year, Harvill Secker, review of Inner Workings; (September 2, 2007), Maggie Gee, review of Diary of a Bad Year.
Village Voice Online,http://www.villagevoice.com/ (August 29, 2005), Benjamin Strong, review of Slow Man.