Sunday, February 17, 2013

A puzzling novel


Summertime, like other novels by South African novelist, J.M. Coatzee (Nobelist)  that I have had read was curiously dry, as if they are echoing the supposedly dry and barren homelands of the Boers that they clung to so fiercely.  Summertime is the most confusing, although I understand from reviews that two previous somewhat biographical books were also confusing and not really enlightening about who and what kind of man Coatzee is.

Summertime appears to be a book of material put together by a biographer after Coatzee's death (although he is not dead). It includes notebooks by the author and interviews about him, most notably with three or four women who had some role in his life.  He paints the man in the book named John Coatzee as unkempt, antisocial, inarticulate, entirely inept as a lover.  He is living with an even more inarticulate father, aged beyond his age.  Apparently the real Coatzee shares a dislike of pubic appearance with the fictional one -- he did not attend the prestigious Mann-Booker awards the two times he was the winner. 

In the course of the story we see that  Coatzee at least has a strong conscience about the inequality of apartheid in South Africa -- as was true in other books as well.  A reader is very much thrown off base -- surely this was intended by the writer -- upon reading this book.  Various writers make themselves characters in their novels, usually making themselves at least a bit grander than in real life.  The opposite tack may be the flip side, psychologically.  It's a curious matter to ponder, this identity thing. 

2 comments:

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

Your book review was honest about the author. I think I would struggle with him. You are certainly disciplined to stay with an author that confuses the reader. -- barbara

June Calender said...

Thanks for the comment, Barbara. I think it depends on an early approach to books. As a lit major I discovered that books that challenge are often the most rewarding. Most people read for relaxation or entertainment, I read for intellectual reward.