Friday, November 03, 2006

Betty Recommends: J.M. Coetzee

I am not sure what to say about J.M. Coetzee except that he writes better than just about anyone writing novels in English today. His novels are all so different from each other - I'm on to my fourth one now, the sort-of memoir "Boyhood" - and it's nothing at all like the others I've read ("Disgrace, "Elizabeth Costello", "Slow Man") which are also nothing like each other.

What's so crazy about his books is that the style is so masterful, unencumbered and clear, that it almost distracts you from how masterful the construction and the storytelling are, which in turn may distract you from how wonderful the stories are.

Lately he's turned to writing argumentatively in his novels, and it's fun to watch how the arguments he spells out mask other arguments he makes with style and story. For example, "Slow Man" is a novel about a man who by the end is determined to prove that not everyone's life, no matter its dramas and comedic elements, is fit to be the subject of a novel. I would recommend "Elizabeth Costello" as a first Coetzee if you've never read him before - not because it's simple, but because it's so full of experimentation. "Disgrace" could be a great movie, but one that would need to make up in visuals what it loses in Coetzee's tantalizing language.

p.s. He also kind of looks like a friend of many contributors to this site, Dr. Leonard Keilson!

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