Summertime: Fiction


"Not since Disgrace, has he written with such urgency and feeling." -The New Yorker

Nobel Prize-winning author J. M. Coetzee's new book follows a young biographer as he works on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. The biographer embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to Coetzee during the period when he was "finding his feet as a writer"-in his thirties and sharing a run-down cottage in the suburbs of Cape Town with his widowed father. Their ...

See more details below
$12.99 price
(Save 13%)$15.00 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (31) from $1.99   
  • New (10) from $5.85   
  • Used (21) from $1.99   
Sending request ...


"Not since Disgrace, has he written with such urgency and feeling." -The New Yorker

Nobel Prize-winning author J. M. Coetzee's new book follows a young biographer as he works on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. The biographer embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to Coetzee during the period when he was "finding his feet as a writer"-in his thirties and sharing a run-down cottage in the suburbs of Cape Town with his widowed father. Their testimonies create an image of an awkward, reserved, and bookish young man who finds it difficult to connect with the people around him. An innovative and inspired work of fiction-incisive, elegant, and often surprisingly funny- Summertime allows one of the most revered writers of our time to imagine his own life with a critical and unsparing eye.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

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
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
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.
The Barnes & Noble Review
John Coetzee is dead, and you can feel his relief on almost every page of Summertime. It's hard to imagine a more liberating conceit for an author as private and elusive as J. M. Coetzee, who has artfully constructed a second self through a trilogy of third person "fictionalized memoirs" -- to use his U.K. publisher's inelegant designation -- of which Summertime is the concluding volume. Viking, Coetzee's American publisher, stakes its territory more firmly: "Fiction by the author of Disgrace" declares the book's cover. Clearly, those looking for a faithful rendering of the man in question should consider themselves warned.

In a 1999 profile in The New Statesman, the writer Rian Malan called Coetzee "a man of almost monkish self-discipline and dedication," and added, "A colleague who has worked with him for more than a decade claims to have seen him laugh just once. An acquaintance has attended several dinner parties where Coetzee has uttered not a single word."But killing himself off in his latest bookhas had a salutary effect, and given how much energy Coetzee devotes to speaking ill of the dead, it might come as a surprise that Summertime is quite funny. The surprise is all the greater given the almost arid seriousness that informs Coetzee's humorless but morally engaged body of work, a Booker- and Nobel-winning oeuvre forged in the crucible of apartheid.

At any rate, Summertime bears a closer relation to Coetzee's last novel, Diary of a Bad Year, than to the preceding memoirs, Boyhood and Youth. The self-portrait is familiar and consistent: "He is well aware that his failure as a writer and his failure as a lover are so closely parallel that they might as well be the same thing," he writes in the closing pages of Youth, and not much has changed. But whereas the first two memoirs are conventionally linear in form, Summertime recalls Bad Year's elliptical, postmodern form.

Summertime is composed of a series of five transcribed interviews conducted by an Englishman called Mr. Vincent, who is at work on an unauthorized, posthumous biography. The interviews, bookended by unfinished fragments presumably from the notebooks of John Coetzee, focus on his hopelessness with women: Julia recalls a brief affair with Coetzee; his alternately adoring and frustrated cousin Margot listens and comments as Vincent reads back his rewriting of their earlier interview; Adriana, the Brazilian dance instructor and mother of one of Coetzee's students, remembers rebuffing his feeble advances; Martin J., a fellow academic and the lone male, coolly appraises his famous friend; and Sophie, another fleeting love interest, recalls their brief, politically tinged affair. (Interestingly, the fictional Coetzee only has affairs with married women -- or perhaps that's all his biographer cares about. Summertime forces us to constantly reconsider our interpretations of what we're reading.) Out of this kaleidoscopic collage emerges a portrait of the artist as a young man, although Coetzee -- speaking through Martin J. -- warns us: "It would be very, very naïve to conclude that because the theme was present in his writing it had to be present in his life."

Such disavowal is typical of Coetzee's invigorating shell game with the truth. Certainly, the numerous diversions from the actual facts of Coetzee's life -- no mention is made of his marriage and children, for example, which would not conform with the asexual self-portrait he paints -- can be taken as rebukes to those who think writers can be known through anything other than their work. As the novel's stories unfold -- and Summertime is inarguably a novel - the contradictions merely deepen. Unwilling interviewees all, Coetzee's intercessors seem determined to thwart Vincent's more prurient desires even as they continue to reveal deeply personal histories despite themselves.

Summertime operates on so many levels that it would require a review of many thousands of words to adequately convey all that is at play in this witty, tricky book. At its heart, though, is a refreshing disdain for the restraint of genres -- a disdain surprising, perhaps , from a writer known for his extreme formality, his great care, care which has in the past tipped into chilliness. But here Coetzee is almost mischievously consumed with reminding us time and time again, pace Magritte, Ceci n'est pas la vérité.

His would-be biographer is scarcely burdened by fealty to the truth. He is rebuked more than once by Margot for "putting words of your own in my mouth" and "just making things up." As does Coetzee himself, of course, animating all the voices that speak on his behalf, and reminding us that all biographies are works of imaginative sympathy, which might make them readable but poses fundamental questions about their value, a value Coetzee seems at pains throughout Summertime to undermine. (Vincent's willingness to cut and change things to meet his subjects' wishes does the genre's practitioners little credit.) Along similar lines, here's Julia reassuring Vincent on her suspiciously precise recall of long-ago conversations:

So let me be candid: as far as the dialogue is concerned, I am making it up as I go along. Which I presume is permitted, since we are talking about a writer. What I am telling you may not be true to the letter, but it is true to the spirit, be assured of that.

Since his Booker-winning masterpiece, Disgrace, Coetzee has increasingly focused on the slippage of narrative, its inherent unreliability, and his recent works have all been challengingly metafictional. Elizabeth Costello combines lectures and essays which many took to speak on behalf of its author; in Slow Man, Costello returns to interrupt the dramatic proceedings and attempt to assert her authorial agency over the novel's events, a player in her own fiction. Diary of Bad Year is a multi-tracked collection of essays and reflections and voices that literally split the pages they fill. Coetzee is clearly as interested in how we tell the stories we tell and what the effect of their being told is -- a literary Uncertainty Principle, if you will -- as he is in the stories themselves. The preoccupation isn't exactly new to the author: Coetzee's brilliant Foe posits that the story of Robinson Crusoe was brought to Daniel Defoe by one Susan Barton. (Vincent's suggestion to Adriana that she might have served as the model for Barton is one of Summertime's many intertextual games.)

Coetzee appears entirely disinterested in straight answers -- seems profoundly suspicious of them, in fact. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2003, his lecture was another piece of fiction, returning him to a Defoe who seemed merely the latest in a line of Coetzee stand-ins: "It seemed to him, coming from his island, where until Friday arrived he lived a silent life, that there was too much speech in the world."

There's a moment of great poignancy in Summertime, when Coetzee and his cousin Margot are stranded out in the desert, the deceased pickup truck yet another of many testaments to Coetzee's ineffectiveness, his lack of manliness. "Tell me a story," Margot asks the writer as they kill time. "I don't know any stories," her hapless cousin, the future Nobel laureate, replies, and suggestively recites a passage from Lucky's soliloquy in Waiting for Godot before reverting into his habitual silence, a silence traditional narrative can do little to illuminate.

There is no upside in trying to summarize Coetzee in all his complexity, without subverting the book review as he subverts the novel. But it's safe to say that he seems to be telling us: don't trust memories; don't trust biographers or biographies; don't trust narrative; don't trust the written word; don't trust the novel, the novelist, the professional liar. Where, then, are consolations to be found in such a seemingly forbidding perspective? Here Coetzee brings to mind Graham Greene, who insisted, "When we are not sure, we are alive." Some will find this worldview cold and damning; others will find it a congenial challenge, opaque but inspiring. Either way, his message is clear: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. --Mark Sarvas

Mark Sarvas' debut novel, Harry, Revised, has been sold in a dozen countries around the world. He is host of the literary blog The Elegant Variation and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143118459
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/26/2010
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 777,211
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.60 (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.

Read More Show Less
    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

Reading Group Guide

With Summertime, Nobel Prize-winning novelist J. M. Coetzee has delivered one of the most profound and searching books of his extraordinary career—a meditation on identity and love, an unrelenting exploration of the personal and spiritual costs inherent in the making of art, and a cunning pseudo-autobiography.

Coetzee has a reputation as a bold and inventive novelist, and Summertime bears that out in its innovative structure. Rather than a straightforward narrative, the book comprises interviews conducted by Mr. Vincent, a fictional biographer who is writing a book about a deceased writer named John Coetzee. This meta-fictional framing device works brilliantly as Vincent’s successive interlocutors reveal their versions of the man at the center of the book and behind the book.

The portrait that emerges from these overlapping perceptions is often shockingly unflattering. The women characters are at times venomous in their contempt for Coetzee’s passivity and detachment. He is called “soft,” “radically incomplete,” “an irritation,” with “something cool or cold about him”; he “did not have a strong presence” and “wasn’t made for love.” When challenged to defend him, even Vincent can only offer weakly that he was “dogged” and “had a steady gaze.” Why, the reader asks, would the author go to such lengths to present such a negative picture? Is he being ruthlessly honest or is there some kind of game being played here? At the very least, a comical figure emerges. Awkward moments of physical and romantic ineptitude show that the author is capable, in his wry way, of laughing at himself even while contemplating mortality and the difficult question of whether we can ever truly know someone else.


J. M. Coetzee is the author of Waiting for the Barbarians, Slow Man, Disgrace, Diary of a Bad Year, and many other books of fiction, memoir, and essays. He has twice received the Booker Prize and is the winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature. Summertime was a finalist for the 2009 Booker Prize. He was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and currently lives in Adelaide, Australia.


  • What do you think about the structure of the novel? Do you believe it’s an effective way of telling this character’s story? Why do you think Coetzee, the author, chose to write the story in this way?
  • How close do you think Coetzee the character is to Coetzee the author? Are we to read this as autobiography?
  • Which of the five interviewees do you think knew Coetzee the best? Who had the most insight into the man?
  • In the first interview, Julia Frankl tells Vincent that “if you go away from here and start fiddling with the text, the whole thing will turn to ash in your hands” (44). What does Julia’s statement say about the nature of biography? Can we ever really get the true story of someone’s life?
  • What portrait of South Africa and Cape Town emerges from the interviews in this novel? How do you think the country itself had an effect on the character John Coetzee and on the interviewees?
  • Julia says of Dusklands, Coetzee’s first work of fiction, that “I prefer my books to have proper heroes and heroines, characters you can admire” (56). What do you think about this? Do you like novels to contain characters that you like or do you find the flawed characters more compelling? Why?
  • Adriana cannot believe that Coetzee was a great writer because “a talent for words is not enough if you want to be a great writer. You also have to be a great man” (195). Do you agree? What do you think she means by “a great man”?
  • Martin is the only male interviewee. How does his testimony differ from the women’s? Why do you think the biographer included him in this project? Do you think that there’s a reason why he is the only one not identified by his full name?
  • The ending of the book is pretty bleak. Coetzee must decide between devoting himself to nursing his father for the rest of the man’s life or abandoning him. Which do you think he will choose? Why? Could there be a third option, and what do you think that might be?
  • Vincent is a shadowy presence throughout the book. What do we learn about him? Do you think his biography will be reliable? Do you think he has a tendency to lead his subjects?
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 – 12 of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    Can't review it because I never got it.

    Why does B&N shipbooks via messenger and not by post or UPS like other companies? I've never had such trouble getting a book delivered. Also, why are B&N books cheaper online than if I actually visit a store? Might be time to cancel that B&N membership.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Honest and wrenching

    Seldom do you read about a character who openly reveals himself as Coetzee has done. I read a review of this book in Oprah and was inspired to buy the book because I recognized the man in my own husband who has Asperger Syndrome. I know this was a "Fiction", but even so. A brave and interesting man.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 27, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    J.M. Coetzee the master

    If you've not read any of Coetzee's book, this will probably not be the one to begin with (Disgrace, Waiting for the Barbarians, etc should be more like it).
    Summertime is a brilliant book from Coetzee in the sense that it empowers him with the perspective to imagine his own life and he does that brilliantly, unflinchingly. Brainy, well-written (seeing that it is from a master writer) and subtly funny, this book belongs to a different level of fiction.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 12 of 13 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)