Slow Man

( 9 )


J. M. Coetzee , one of the greatest living writers in the English language, has crafted a deeply moving tale of love and mortality in his new book, Slow Man. When photographer Paul Rayment loses his leg in a bicycle accident, he is forced to reexamine how he has lived his life. Through Paul's story, Coetzee addresses questions that define us all: What does it mean to do good? What in our lives is ultimately meaningful? How do we define the place we call "home"? In his clear and uncompromising voice, Coetzee ...

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J. M. Coetzee , one of the greatest living writers in the English language, has crafted a deeply moving tale of love and mortality in his new book, Slow Man. When photographer Paul Rayment loses his leg in a bicycle accident, he is forced to reexamine how he has lived his life. Through Paul's story, Coetzee addresses questions that define us all: What does it mean to do good? What in our lives is ultimately meaningful? How do we define the place we call "home"? In his clear and uncompromising voice, Coetzee struggles with these issues and offers a story that will dazzle the reader on every page.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
[Coetzee] has found a new access of warmth and humor, and displays a vivifying fondness for his characters. (John Banville, The New Republic)
Ward Just
I take this novel to be a scrutiny of disappointment and irresolution, a chicken-and-egg affair that does not yield satisfactory answers. Still, Coetzee's narrative is a bracing corrective to the blustering do-not-go-gentle-into-that-good-night. For Rayment, one chance after another has come and gone, some seized, most not. And when enough chances have come and gone, it can seem altogether wiser to maintain things as they are… J. M. Coetzee has much to say about these matters and many others in Slow Man—beautifully composed, deeply thought, wonderfully written.
— The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
Nobel-winner Coetzee (Disgrace) ponders life, love and the mind/ body connection in his latest heavy-hitter; he also plays a little trick. When retired photographer Paul Rayment loses his leg in a bicycle accident, his lengthy, lonely recuperation forces him to reflect on a life he deems wasted. The gloom lifts with the arrival of brisk, efficient Marijana Jokic, his Croatian day nurse, with whom Paul becomes infatuated. (He also takes a special interest in Marijana's teenage boy-the son he never had.) It's here, while Paul frets over how to express his feelings, that Coetzee (perhaps unsure if his dithering protagonist can sustain the book) gets weird: the distinguished writer Elizabeth Costello, eponymous heroine of Coetzee's 2003 novel, comes for a visit. To Paul's bewilderment, Costello (Coetzee's alter ego?) exhorts him to become more of a main character in the narrative, even orchestrating events to force his reactions. Some readers will object to this cleverness and the abstract forays into the mysteriousness of the writing process. It is to Coetzee's credit, however, a testament to his flawless prose and appealing voice, that while challenging the reader with postmodern shenanigans, the story of how Paul will take charge of his life and love continues to engage, while Elizabeth Costello the device softens into a real character, one facing frailties of her own. She pushes Paul, or Paul pushes Elizabeth-both push Coetzee-on to the bittersweet conclusion. Agent, Peter Lampack. (On sale Sept. 26) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The physical and spiritual ramifications of a life-changing event are at the heart of Nobel prize winner Coetzee's latest novel. While riding his bicycle one day, Paul Rayment, a sixtysomething French-born photographer living in Australia, is involved in an auto accident and loses a leg. A solitary and stubborn individual by nature, he is sent spiraling deeper into depression and social isolation. Only Marijana, his levelheaded Croatian nurse, whose family he will become involved with as he falls in love with her, begins to lift his gloom. Also entering his life is aging novelist Elizabeth Costello (who first appeared in Coetzee's eponymously titled 2003 work), a mysterious presence who seems to know a great deal about his situation even before meeting him and pushes him toward uncharacteristic risks in order to shake him from his malaise. This is a finely wrought portrait of a not entirely sympathetic protagonist crippled in ways that go well beyond the loss of a limb. Highly recommended.-Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The 2003 Nobel laureate's tenth novel reintroduces wisdom-dispensing Australian novelist Elizabeth Costello, first sighted in Coetzee's lecture collection The Lives of Animals (1999). As she did in the author's 2003 novel Elizabeth Costella Elizabeth functions as doppelganger and mentor-this time, to 60-year-old former photographer Paul Rayment, who has lost a leg in a bicycling accident. After leaving the hospital, Paul rejects several home-care nurses, until Croatian immigrant Marijana Jokics earns his trust, his gratitude-and his unspoken love. The hardworking Marijana's busy family life also attracts her aging, infirm patient (who refuses a prosthesis, and is now acutely aware of his loneliness and childlessness), and Paul attempts to play God, offering to pay her teenaged son's college tuition (and offending Marijana's husband, a trained engineer underemployed as a mechanic). Enter dea ex machina Costello, a world-renowned writer who's now a homeless septuagenarian. She seems to know everything about Rayment's and the Jokics's histories, and patiently pushes Paul toward fuller involvement in the world: as the lover of a sex-starved blind woman (interestingly named Marianna), a de facto parent-guardian, and an all-round more emotionally (albeit not physically) complete human being. "Become major," she intones. "Be a main character." Coetzee never reveals whether (as Paul suspects) he is a character in a novel Costello is writing, perhaps a creature of her imagination, or whether she has (as she repeatedly insists) been "sent" to recall him to life. Slow Man has more narrative than the laxly discursive Elizabeth Costello, and does build appreciable dramatic momentum, before endinginconclusively. Still, one has the uneasy feeling that Coetzee's Nobel Prize has had an enervating effect, stripping his formerly intricate house of fiction to a shell of its former self: a platform for the abstract musings of a sententious sage. Where is the author of Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace, now that we need him most?
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143037897
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/26/2006
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 768,494
  • Product dimensions: 5.08 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.46 (d)

Meet the Author

J.M. Coetzee

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 9, 1940, John Michael Coetzee studied first at Cape Town and later at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in literature. In 1972 he returned to South Africa and joined the faculty of the University of Cape Town. His works of fiction include Dusklands, Waiting for the Barbarians, which won South Africa’s highest literary honor, the Central News Agency Literary Award, and the Life and Times of Michael K., for which Coetzee was awarded his first Booker Prize in 1983. He has also published a memoir, Boyhood: Scenes From a Provincial Life, and several essays collections. He has won many other literary prizes including the Lannan Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize and The Irish Times International Fiction Prize. In 1999 he again won Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for Disgrace, becoming the first author to win the award twice in its 31-year history. In 2003, Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.


John Maxwell Coetzee was born in 1940 in Cape Town, South Africa. He is of both Boer and English descent. His parents sent him to an English school, and he grew up using English as his first language.

At the beginning of the 1960s he moved to England, where he worked initially as a computer programmer. He studied literature in the United States and has gone on to teach at several American universities, the University of Cape Town, and the University of Adelaide.

Coetzee made his debut as a writer of fiction in 1974. His first book, Dusklands was published in South Africa. His international breakthrough came in 1980 with the novel Waiting for the Barbarian. In 1983 he won the Booker Prize in the United Kingdom for Life and Times of Michael K. In 1999, he became the first author to be twice awarded the Booker Prize, this time for his novel, Disgrace. In 2003, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. The Academy cited the astonishing wealth of variety in Coetzee's stories, many of which are set against the backdrop of apartheid.

In addition to his novels, Coetzee has written numerous essays and interviews. His literary criticism has been published in journals and collected into anthologies.

Good To Know

Described by friends as a reclusive and private man, Coetzee did not make the trip to London in 1984 to receive the Booker Prize for Life and Times of Michael K, nor when he again won the prize for Disgrace in 1999.

His 1977 novel, In the Heart of the Country, was filmed as the motion picture Dust in 1985.

Coetzee has also been active as a translator of Dutch and Afrikaans literature.

In 2002, Coetzee emigrated to Australia.

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    1. Also Known As:
      John Maxwell Coetzee
    2. Hometown:
      Adelaide, Australia
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 9, 1940
    2. Place of Birth:
      Cape Town, South Africa
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Cape Town, 1960; M.A., 1963; Ph.D. in Literature, University of Texas, Austin, 1969

Table of Contents

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Reading Group Guide

Slow Man begins, abruptly, with a devastating blow. While bicycling on McGill Road, sixty-year-old Paul Rayment is hit by a car, thrown through the air and badly injured. When he awakens in a hospital, he is told that his right leg must be amputated.

The shock of this sudden loss casts his previous life into sharp and painful relief. Without children, having accomplished nothing important, Paul feels he has led a meaningless life: "If in the course of his life he has done no significant harm, he had done no good either. . . . He will leave no trace behind, not even an heir to carry on his name." He has occupied himself merely with "looking after his interests, quietly prospering, attracting no attention" (p. 19). Now he must decide how he is going to respond to his predicament in the time that remains to him.

Coetzee is no sentimentalist and readers hoping for a heartwarming story of misfortune overcome and misery transmuted into joy will find something far more complex in Slow Man. Stubborn and embittered, Paul Rayment refuses a prosthetic leg and sinks into a deep despondency. But when the home nurse Marijana Jokic arrives, Paul falls precipitously, and foolishly, in love. Marijana's tenderness and matter-of-fact acceptance of Paul's condition comes as a healing balm both to his injury and to his loneliness. In a moment of passion, Paul blurts out his love for the married Marijana and sets in motion a chain of events that he can neither predict nor control. Lacking a family of his own, Paul wishes to extend a protective hand over the Jokics, but when he offers to pay for their son's tuition at an expensive boarding school, Mr. Jokic suspects an affair, the family is bitterly divided, and as a result of his "good" intentions, Paul finds himself without a nurse.

Even more disquieting for Paul is the arrival of novelist Elizabeth Costello, the eponymous heroine of Coetzee's previous work of fiction. Elizabeth shows up unannounced on Paul's doorstep, possessed of an authorial omniscience about Paul's life and thoughts. She insists that Paul came to her, though she never makes clear how this is supposed to have happened, and Paul wants nothing more than to get her out of his life. Is Elizabeth merely using Paul as a subject for a story, as Paul suspects, or does she have some higher, more mysterious purpose? Coetzee never lets us know, exactly, how we are to interpret Elizabeth's presence. In one of their many arguments, Elizabeth tells Paul: "This is your story, not mine. The moment you decide to take charge, I will fade away" (p. 100). Whether or not Paul will ever "take charge" is one of the many questions that drives the novel to its surprising conclusion.

In prose that is both hard-edged and richly suggestive, Coetzee explores with consummate skill the promptings of morality and the tensions we all feel between will and surrender, passion and reflection, youth and age.


J. M. Coetzee has won many literary awards, including three CNA prizes (South Africa's premier literary award), two Booker prizes, the Prix Etranger Femina, the Jerusalem Prize, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003. He is the author of ten works of fiction, including Waiting for the Barbarians, Age of Iron, Disgrace, andElizabeth Costello. He lives in Australia.


  • In what ways is Paul—a sixty-year-old amputee with no wife and no children—an unlikely protagonist for a novel? How does J. M. Coetzee make of his life such a compelling story?
  • The narrator says of Paul: "A golden opportunity was presented to him to set an example of how one accepts with good cheer one of the bitterer blows of fate, and he has spurned it" (p. 15). A rehabilitation therapist later tells him, "Accept: that is all you need to do. Then all the doors that you think are closed will open" (p. 59). Why is Paul unable to accept his fate? What consequences follow from that refusal?
  • When Paul awakens in the hospital, the narrator tells us: "Frivolous is not a bad word to sum him up, as he was before the event and may still be." Paul's life has been "a wasted chance" (p. 19). "What could be more selfish, more miserly . . . than dying childless, terminating the line, subtracting oneself from the great work of generation" (p. 20)? How does Paul respond to this self-assessment? How does it motivate his actions in the novel? How does he try to give meaning to his life?
  • How would you explain the appearance of Elizabeth Costello in Paul Rayment's life? She tells him, again and again, that Paul "came" to her. ("You came to me, that is all I can say. You occurred to me—a man with a bad leg and no future and an unsuitable passion" p. 85.) How are we to understand this statement? How would you account for Elizabeth's apparent omniscience?
  • When Elizabeth first arrives in Paul's flat, she recites a passage: "The blow catches him from the right, sharp and surprising and painful, like a bolt of electricity, lifting him up off the bicycle," which is exactly how Slow Man begins. How would you explain this? Is she writing, or has she already written, the story of Paul's life as it appears in Slow Man?
  • What is the significance of Paul's having been a photographer and of his attachment to his archival collection?
  • Why does Paul fall in love with Marijana? What consequences follow from the moment when he blurts out his love for her? Should he have kept such feelings to himself? How is Paul perceived by the rest of the Jokic family?
  • Elizabeth tells Paul, "I say it again: this is your story, not mine. The moment you decide to take charge, I will fade away" (p. 100). What would it mean for Paul to "take charge"? Why would doing so make Elizabeth "fade away"?
  • "Become major," Elizabeth tells Paul. "Live like a hero. That is what the classics teach us. Be a main character. Otherwise what is life for?" (p. 229). Does Paul follow this advice? He is the main character in Slow Man, after all, but does he live like a hero?
  • Is Paul's attempt to "extend a protective hand" over the Jokic family misguided? Generous? Selfish? How honest is Paul about the motives for his protectiveness?
  • Do you think Paul makes the right decision at the end of the novel in declining Elizabeth's offer to go live with her? What do you imagine the rest of Paul's life will be like?
  • Paul tells Elizabeth: "With a little ingenuity, it seems to me, Mrs. Costello, one can torture a lesson out of the most haphazard sequence of events. Are you trying to tell me that God had some plan in mind when he struck me down on McGill Road and turned me into a hobbler" (p. 198)? Is there a lesson for Paul to learn from what has happened to him? What might that lesson be? Or is he right in suggesting that we "torture" such lessons out of random events and perhaps out of novels as well?
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2010

    Slow Man equaled Slow Moving

    Although I related to Paul's desire for privacy and some form of independent living after he loses his leg in a bike accident, I couldn't understand his obsession with the aide he hired to assist him and her family. And Elizabeth Costello's complicated presence and single-minded desire to get Paul to make any sort of decision with his life - when the two of them were strangers to one another - was baffling. Very abrupt ending.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2010


    The first quarter of this book is interesting. We follow Paul Rayment after an accident that leaves him without a leg. (This happens in the first few pages.) We're in his mind, experiencing what he does, following him through the few people who care for him. Then Elizabeth Costello arrives and the book goes downhill. She arrives from no where and acts as an authorial voice. She knows things she couldn't possibly know and she messes with Paul's mind. This interloper never develops. We're led to believe there's something mystical about her, perhaps other-worldly.

    I did not like her because she was neither a "real" character nor a true authorial voice. Coetzee plays with this technique--that Elizabeth is his voice in the story, but for what purpose? In places we find her asking the same questions we do: why doesn't Paul act in one way or another? Why doesn't he leave his situation? Etc. And nothing really happens. It's as if the author is begging his character to do something and he doesn't. I don't feel Paul has changed by the end, which is why I was disappointed. This story had a lot of potential.

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  • Posted December 3, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Good baby boomers novel

    Yes, I am getting old, so I did appreciate this novel. Twenty years ago I probably would have said "I don't get it." The story is good on the surface level and it is also a thoughful exploration of what to do with our remaining years. Do we fill them with life or hide away in our comfort zone?

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    Posted September 4, 2011

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    Posted July 1, 2010

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