Sunday, January 17, 2010

Book Review - Summertime - January 17, 2010

I finished Nobel Laureate JM Coetzee's new novel , Summertime (2009), earlier today (it has a 2009 copyright date from overseas but was just released in the US last week). This is an excellent read, and is cleverly crafted. It tells the story of a brief stretch of the life of a South African writer named John Coetzee, since deceased. The story is told from the point of view of interviews with five people who knew the fictionalized (?) Coetzee in the early to mid 1970's, as well as a number of fragments from the writer's notebooks.

The real Coetzee blurs the lines between what is real and what is not - the fictional Coetzee has the same name, much of the same history, writes books of the same titles and wins the Nobel Prize. But to consider this book autobiography would clearly be taking it too literally; to go the opposite way and consider it pure fiction would be ridiculous. It is interesting to speculate on where exactly it lies between those two poles.

Whatever the answer to that might be, it does read as an excellent novel at face value. How much more to it there is than that might ultimately only really matter to an academic or a scholar.

Here are a few of the passages that struck me as I was reading:

  • "...he ran his life according to principles, whereas I was a pragmatist. Pragmatism always beats principles; that is just the way things are. The universe moves, the ground changes under our feet; principles are always a step behind. Principles are the stuff of comedy. Comedy is what you get when principles bump into reality." [page 63]
  • "Not dignified, you say. Well, that is what you risk when you fall in love. You risk losing your dignity." [page 185]
  • " a personal level there was a certain tension between us. I wanted our relationship to grow and develop, he wanted it to remain the same, without change. That was what caused the breach, in the end. Because between a man and a woman there is no standing still, in my view. Either you are going up or you are going down." [page 240]

Highly recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment