Diary of a Bad Year

Diary of a Bad Year

4.2 5
by J. M. Coetzee
     
 

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An utterly contemporary and deeply thought-provoking novel which addresses the profound unease of countless people in modern democracies around the world.

An eminent, seventy-two-year-old Australian writer is invited to contribute to a book entitled Strong Opinions. It is a chance to air some urgent concerns. He writes short essays on the origins of the state, on

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Overview

An utterly contemporary and deeply thought-provoking novel which addresses the profound unease of countless people in modern democracies around the world.

An eminent, seventy-two-year-old Australian writer is invited to contribute to a book entitled Strong Opinions. It is a chance to air some urgent concerns. He writes short essays on the origins of the state, on Machiavelli, on anarchism, on Al-Qaida, on intelligent design, on music. What, he asks, is the origin of the state and the nature of the relationship between citizen and state? How should the citizen of a modern democracy react to the state’s willingness to set aside moral considerations and civil liberties in its war on terror, a war that includes the use of torture? How does the state handle outsiders?

In the laundry-room of his apartment block he encounters an alluring young woman. When he discovers she is between jobs he claims failing eyesight and offers her work typing up his manuscript. Anya has no interest in politics but the job provides a distraction, as does the writer’s evident and not unwelcome attraction toward her.
Her boyfriend, Alan, an investment consultant who understands the world in harsh neo-liberal economic terms, has reservations about his trophy girlfriend spending time with this 1960s throwback. Taking a lively interest in his affairs, Alan begins to formulate a plan.

Diary of a Bad Year is an utterly contemporary work of fiction from one of our greatest writers and deepest thinkers. It addresses the profound unease of countless people in democracies across the world.

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Editorial Reviews

Richard Eder
J. M. Coetzee's novel Diary of a Bad Year is something of a self-managed funeral, but a lavish one: mordant, funny and wise. Mr. Coetzee writes circles around any attempt to pin him down…Mr. Coetzee moves through the country of old age as if it were a fresh journey, this one traveling second class. As C. explores the place, he shifts from arrogance to anger to humility and finally to something like mystical acceptance. All this indicates what Diary does, and quite misses what it is: Mr.Coetzee somewhere close to his most serious, and having—and giving—lovely fun. I think of the childlike simplicity of late Beethoven on a profound return trip from profundity.
—The New York Times
Kathryn Harrison
Diary of a Bad Year coerces us to harden what Coleridge identified as "that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith" into a willed suspension of disbelief, an act that is conscious, purposeful and informed. To want to be told a story built up "out of nothing," to have our edification with a spoonful of fiction, would seem to be an old-fashioned, even prelapsarian desire. This novel's fall from the grace of a purely imagined world is a matter of self-conscious nakedness, of insisting we see undisguised rhetorical tricks we might prefer cloaked with artifice.
—The New York Times Book Review
Louis Begley
Diary of a Bad Year is an ingenious work that rivets the reader's attention, and it cannot have been easy to write.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Nobelist Coetzee's 19th book features a stand-in for himself: Señor C, a white 72-year-old South African writer living in Australia who has written Waiting for the Barbarians. C falls into a "metaphysical" passion for his sexy 29-year-old Filipina neighbor, Anya, and quickly plots to spend more time with her by offering her a job as his typist. C's latest project is a series of political and philosophical essays, and Coetzee divides each page of the present novel in three: any given page features a bit of an essay (often its title and opening paragraph) at the top; C's POV in the middle; and Anya's voice at the bottom. C's opinions in the essays are mostly on the left (he despises Bush, Blair & Co., and is opposed to the Iraq War) and they bore Anya, who wants something less lofty. Meanwhile, Anya's lover, Alan-a smart, conservative 42-year-old investment consultant who's good in the sack, and who stands for everything C despises-becomes increasingly scornful and jealous, and eventually concocts an elaborate plan to defraud C. of money. Unfortunately, Anya is little more than a trophy to be disputed, and Alan as an unscrupulous, boorish reactionary is a caricature. While C's essays, especially the later ones inspired by Anya, hold some interest, this follow-up to Slow Yearis not one of Coetzee's major efforts. (Jan.)

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O The Oprah Magazine
Coetzee is one of the English-speaking world's great tragic storytellers. . . . [This novel] offers exciting formal evidence of a literary artist's capacity to keep up with the chaotic malfunctions of our time.
Library Journal

Señor C, an aging and ailing writer in Australia, has been asked by his publisher to contribute political essays to a book called Strong Opinions. Having become infatuated with Anya, a beautiful young woman who lives in his apartment building, he hires her to type his manuscript. While Señor C is writing his essays on politics and morality, a morality tale of a different sort is playing out in his apartment, as the young woman's boyfriend tries to tap into the old writer's online bank account. The result reads like a literary hybrid of fiction and nonfiction, with each page alternating between Señor C's observations for Strong Opinionsand dialog among him, Anya, and her boyfriend, Alan. As Anya remarks, we've all got opinions, but if you tell a story at least people will shut up and listen to you. Nobel prize winner Coetzee's thought-provoking and cerebral novel is recommended for academic and larger public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ9/15/07.]
—Leslie Patterson

Kirkus Reviews
The 2003 Nobel winner's latest (Inner Workings: 2000-2005, 2007, etc.) is another drama shaped as intellectual argument, unhappily akin to its immediate predecessors Elizabeth Costello (2003) and (the somewhat livelier) Slow Man (2005). Its protagonist, an eminent and aging author initially identified as Se-or C., has agreed to contribute his thoughts about the state of the contemporary world to a volume presenting its several contributors' "Strong Opinions." As C. undertakes this task, he simultaneously develops an avuncular relationship with Anya, the gorgeous young woman he meets in their building's laundry room, and eventually establishes a more formal acquaintance with Anya's lover Alan. The latter is an "investment consultant" who tests Anya's resolve by suggesting strategies to exploit C.'s evident appreciation of her beauty, and embezzle funds from his presumable great wealth. In a narrative that we read both from top to bottom of each page and horizontally, following arguments continued on facing pages, C. fulminates, Anya frets and Alan schemes. C.'s strong opinions consider the formation of political states; the current administration's rampant contempt for law and the related "crimes" of its enablers; radical feminism's attacks on pornography; the inhumane treatment of animals and indifference to their rights; the devaluation of modern culture; and the "authority" with which great writers (notably Tolstoy) render the warp and woof and detail of human experience. Late in the book, Coetzee's serial drone, the aforementioned Elizabeth Costello, shows up (doesn't she always?), and any pretense that C. is not Coetzee is airily abandoned. Otherwise, there's no development. C.brandishes his erudition. Anya is, fleetingly, intriguingly fiery. And Alan is a bloody bore. There's something wrong with a novel in which a twisted, exploitative sexual relationship is far less interesting than are dozens of pages of discursive commentary. But that's the new, improved Coetzee for you. Maybe we should blame the Swedish Academy.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143114482
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/28/2008
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
875,798
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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