3.3 13
by J. M. Coetzee

In this autobiographical novel, a young English biographer is researching a book about the late South African writer John Coetzee, focusing on Coetzee in his thirties, at a time when he was living in a rundown cottage in the Cape Town suburbs with his widowed father--a time, the biographer is convinced, when Coetzee was finding himself as a writer.  See more details below


In this autobiographical novel, a young English biographer is researching a book about the late South African writer John Coetzee, focusing on Coetzee in his thirties, at a time when he was living in a rundown cottage in the Cape Town suburbs with his widowed father--a time, the biographer is convinced, when Coetzee was finding himself as a writer.

Editorial Reviews

Marie Arana
…part confessional, part tease, a wholly trumped-up story in which a callow biographer sets out to get the true goods on the novelist…in the end, trying to parse Coetzee's novel about Coetzee is a bit like trying to pry open the goose that laid the golden egg. What does it matter what kind of man he is? Why should we care if he is cripplingly shy, makes love like an automaton, is unwilling to strike the authorial pose? Does it really make any difference to the art to know that the artist doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, doesn't eat meat, goes virtually catatonic at dinner parties; that he surrounds himself with high walls, routinely declines interviews, refuses to trot to podiums to accept a prize? As Coetzee puts it in this defiantly heretical novel, a writer is "just a man, a man of his time, talented, maybe even gifted, but, frankly, not a giant."
—The Washington Post
Katha Pollitt
The intriguing book we have in our hands is a collage. Fragments from Mr. Coetzee's (or "John's") notebooks bookend five interviews conducted some time in the future by a young biographer, whose name is given only as Mr. Vincent, with five people who knew Mr. Coetzee (or "John") around the time he was living with his retired father in a Capetown suburb, teaching English, and writing, unbeknownst to most who knew him, his first two novels…it's a mark of Mr. Coetzee's power as a storyteller that he makes a compelling, indeed, racing, narrative out of these hidden wheels within wheels. Even those who miss the intensity of Boyhood and Youth will find themselves turning pages as fast as they can.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Nobel laureate and two-time Booker-winner Coetzee has been shortlisted for the third time for this powerful novel, a semisequel to the fictionalized memoirs Boyhood and Youth that takes the form of a young biographer's interviews with colleagues of the late author John Coetzee. To Dr. Julia Frankl, who briefly sought in Coetzee deliverance from her husband, he was “not fully human”; to his cousin, Margot Jonker, he is boring, ridiculous and misguided; and to Sophie Denoël, an expert in African literature, Coetzee is an underwhelming writer with “no original insight into the human condition.” The harshest characterization—and also the best of the interviews—comes from Adriana Nascimento, a Brazilian emigrant who met Coetzee when both were teachers in Cape Town; she was repulsed by the intellectual's attempts at courtship. “He is nothing,” she says, “was nothing... an embarrassment.” The biographer's efforts to describe his subject ultimately result in an examination that reaches through fiction and memoir to grasp what the traditional record leaves out. (Jan.)
Library Journal
In a clever and compelling new novel, Coetzee (Disgrace) probes the life of late South African novelist John Coetzee, whom a young English biographer has begun researching. Coetzee draws on fragments from his own journals to tell the story of a writer. Sandwiched between the journal excerpts are interviews with five people—his cousin Margot, a married woman with whom Coetzee had an affair, a dancer whose young daughter Coetzee taught English, a university colleague, and Martin, a man with whom Coetzee had competed for a university position. From these perspectives, the writer emerges as an introspective loner whose lack of concern for others (demonstrated by his inability to care compassionately for his father, who lives with him) verges on misanthropy. His complete misunderstanding of the workings of the human heart generates writing that is technically playful but dispassionate, yet this distance allows him to peer into the human psyche in ways that others cannot. VERDICT Anyone captivated by the themes of distraction and the search for home that characterize the writings of Kafka, W.G. Sebald, Milan Kundera, and Philip Roth will want to travel with Coetzee on this journey toward home. Another brilliant excursion into the nature of writing and the complexities of place and the making of a personal identity. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/09.]—Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Evanston, IL
Kirkus Reviews
Defiantly inconclusive some-kind-of-fiction from Booker- and Nobel Prize-winning Coetzee (Diary of a Bad Year, 2007, etc.). Navel-gazing reached new heights in the recent work of this South African-born, now Australian-resident writer. The good news is that his latest novel, closely related to the earlier autobiographies Boyhood (1997) and Youth (2002), is much more engaging than its recent predecessors dominated by the presence and influence of Coetzee's (really) annoying surrogate Elizabeth Costello. She isn't consulted during the parade of interviews conducted here by would-be biographer Mr. Vincent with five people who knew the late (!) eminent and notoriously reclusive writer "John Coetzee." The period investigated is the 1970s, when fictional Coetzee, retreating from an embryonic and unfulfilling academic/literary career abroad, returned to live in Cape Town with his widowed father. We learn that John's affair with a vigorous married woman couldn't survive her growing conviction that he "did not love anybody, was not built for love," that "sex with him lacked all thrill." The cousin he had loved when both were children later found him unsociable and emotionless. Brazilian dance teacher Adriana and former colleague Sophie failed similarly to achieve intimacy with John, and another colleague, Martin J, pronounces the fictional Coetzee's withdrawal symptomatic of his fear of human connection. Numerous distancing devices (e.g., Mr. Vincent's reshaping of Margot's disjointed responses into a coherent narrative) call into question everything "revealed" to the interviewer, while calmly keeping the reader at arm's-and mind's-length. The result is a fascinating hybrid, weakened only by Mr.Vincent's pace-killing interruptions, that becomes simultaneously enlightening and amusingly evasive. The real Coetzee's austere integrity and terse candor make this the best yet of his ongoing self-interrogations.

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Product Details

Center Point Large Print
Publication date:
Edition description:
Large Print Edition
Product dimensions:
6.56(w) x 8.68(h) x 1.08(d)

Meet the Author

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.

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Brief Biography

Adelaide, Australia
Date of Birth:
February 9, 1940
Place of Birth:
Cape Town, South Africa
B.A., University of Cape Town, 1960; M.A., 1963; Ph.D. in Literature, University of Texas, Austin, 1969

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