…Coetzee is as perspicacious and erudite a guide as one could hope for. His biographical sketches of the life and times of the authors he addresses are excellent, concretely informative while also marbled with interesting tidbits…But the meat of Coetzee's overviews can be found in other good introductions by other critics. What can't be found anywhere else, where Coetzee is unparalleled, is his ability to capture the psychology of individual characters, to lay bare the inner working of their minds, and in so doing bring to light the source of their enduring interest to readers…
Late Essays is filled with many moments of…perfect insight, moments when the reader is left enthralled by Coetzee's powers of perception…In these essays, Coetzee is doing for the writers who came before him what I imagine he hopes will be done for him by the writers who will follow. He is gravedigging, with probity, with the greatest reverence for the craft they share, and in this way is saying thank you in the only way one writer can really say it to another, which is by writing about them well.
The New York Times Book Review - Benjamin Ogden
In this collection of 23 essays, Coetzee (The Schooldays of Jesus) offers striking, imaginative insights into a varied group of writers, from German poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843) to modern-day master Philip Roth. Coetzee’s entries, roving from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Leo Tolstoy, Samuel Beckett, and Patrick White, raise numerous questions: Why do novels lie to us? What makes Samuel Beckett like Herman Melville? How do translators make choices? In his essay on playwright and fiction writer Heinrich von Kleist, Coetzee reflects on the author’s enigmatic novella The Marquise of O, asking whether there can be aspects of a story that remain unknown even to the author. Yet there are limits to Coetzee’s scope: the authors in this collection are, except for Irene Nemirovsky, male. Moreover, Coetzee reveals a blindness to the female experience, as made apparent when he writes, about the heroine of Daniel Defoe’s Roxana: A Fortunate Mistress, that anything “resistible” isn’t rape and questions how she could be sexually alluring at 50. Nevertheless, Coetzee’s many strong and provocative essays, along with the clarity of his writing and the literary biographies he weaves into his analyses, make this in general a worthwhile work of literary criticism. Agent: Peter Lampack, Peter Lampack Agency. (Jan.)
Praise for J. M. Coetzee
‟Coetzee is that rare breed, an academic who is also a world-class writer, and this latest collection is informed as much by the novelist’s keen eye as it is by the theorists obsessions.” —
The New York Times Book Review
‟[Coetzee] is probably the only Nobel laureate to write so extensively about his peers . . . and he is happily unrestrained by mere collegiality.”
—New York Sun
Coetzee has certainly made his mark in fiction, having won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003 and been the first author to be awarded the Booker Prize twice, for Life & Times of Michael K and Disgrace. But he's also an insightful critic, and the subjects of these 23 recent essays range from Daniel Defoe, Samuel Beckett, and Philip Roth to Goethe, Irene Nemirovsky, and Patrick White. Not just for scholars; with a 20,000-copy first printing.
Nobel and Booker Prize winner Coetzee (The Schooldays of Jesus, 2017, etc.) offers another collection of reflective and erudite essays on a variety of poets and novelists.Originally published as introductions to foreign translations or in the New York Review of Books, some of the author's favorites recur: Daniel Defoe, Robert Walser, Zbigniew Herbert, Philip Roth, and Samuel Beckett, the "philosophical satirist," whom Coetzee covers in four of the essays. While discussing Beckett's letters and two novels—Watt, a "fable cum treatise that for long stretches manages to be hypnotically fascinating," and Molloy, a "mysterious work, inviting interpretation and resisting it at the same time"—the author focuses on Beckett's language, a "self-enclosed system, a labyrinth without issue, in which human beings are trapped." An acclaimed translator himself, Coetzee is particularly interested in the translations of some authors' works. He laments that any translation of Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther that would be "true" for readers of the 1770s as well as for today's is "an unattainable ideal." He quibbles that Michael Hamburger's translations of Friedrich Hölderlin's poetry are "only intermittently…touched with divine fire." But the "achievement is nevertheless considerable." The essay on Patrick White, the "greatest writer Australia has produced," confronts the dilemma faced by literary executors. Coetzee praises White's agent Barbara Mobbs as well as Kafka's friend Max Brod for refusing to carry out their authors' wishes to have their writings destroyed. As Coetzee writes, "the world is a richer place now that we have [White's] The Hanging Garden." As a longtime advocate for animal rights, his short piece on Juan Ramón Jiménez's tale of a donkey, Platero and I, is especially poignant. Other subjects of Coetzee's probing eye include Flaubert, Tolstoy, Hawthorne, Heinrich Von Kleist, Antonio Di Benedetto, Les Murray, Gerald Murnane, Irène Némirovsky, Ford Madox Ford, and Hendrik Witbooi.Thought-provoking essays that offer more than mere opinion, as the author plumbs the writers' philosophical and psychological depths.