Saturday, September 03, 2005

Crafty Coetzee

While reading the Review section of The Age this morning and crunching on toast with peanut butter and honey, I discovered that J.M. Coetzee's latest novel, Slow Man, is now on sale. Naturally, that meant I had to dash down to Borders to get it, even though I'm not sure exactly when I'll get to read it.

Coetzee and I have had a bizarre, one-sided love-hate relationship over the last few years. He infuriates me- I hate what he does to his female characters in particular- and yet I am continually drawn to his crisp, precise prose that I could never hope to emulate and don't particularly want to.

The first book of his that I read was Youth. It provoked such a strong reaction from me, to the point where I would feel the need to wash my hands after I had put it down. There were times when I wanted to stab forks through its pages, and other times when I felt like pinning it to the clothesline and watch it slowly succumb to the weather from the relative safety of my bedroom window. And yet, there is a moment in that text that has stayed with me over the years and pops into my mind at odd times when I least expect it. It is the horrific, yet oddly tender reflection from a father on his aborted child:

His thoughts keep going to what was destroyed inside her- that pod of flesh, that rubbery manikin. He sees the little creature flushed down the toilet at the Woodstock house, tumbled through the maze of sewers, tossed out at last into the shallows, blinking in the sudden sun, struggling against the waves that will carry it out into the bay. He did not want it to live and now he does not want it to die. Yet even if he were to run down to the beach, find it, save it from the sea, what would he do with it? Bring it home, keep it warm in cotton wool, try to get it to grow? How can he who is still a child bring up a child?
He is out of his depth. He has barely emerged into the world himself and already he has a death chalked up against him. How many of the other men he sees in the streets carry dead children with them like baby shoes slung around their necks?

Phew. See what I mean?

Slow Man is another experiment in metafiction for Coetzee (a genre that I find fascinating). Apparently, the central character from his last novel, the elderly writer Elizabeth Costello from the novel of the same name (a woman who I wanted to rescue from the very pages that she had been created within- damn Coetzee and his arrogant, assuming treatment of female characters) appears in this new novel, quite unexpectedly, which allows Coetzee to examine the nature of the creative process. ("Postmodern shenanigans" is what one reviewer termed this device). Slow Man is also supposed to continue in the more overtly philosophical vein of his recent books, which I quite enjoy but some reviewers seem to abhor.

There have been a few quite interesting and contradictory reviews published:

Kerryn Goldsworthy for The Age

Sarah Emily Miano for The Times

D J Taylor for The Independent

Robert Macfarlane for the Sunday Times

Looks like it will be an interesting journey...


Scott said...

A link to Borders is a support for Borders! Down with multinationalism

nb said...

Sorry- I'm a Borders lover from way back.