Coetzee’s New Book

I’m not a J. M. Coetzee fan. For precisely the reason iterated in the introduction paragraph of the new book review in the New Yorker.

There are people who think of J. M. Coetzee as a cold writer, and he might agree, or pretend to agree. “If he were a warmer person he would no doubt find it all easier: life, love, poetry,” he writes of himself in his memoir “Youth.” “But warmth is not in his nature.” …that his father surely thought him a selfish child “who has turned into a cold man.” His art, he laments, is “not great-souled.” It lacks “generosity, fails to celebrate life, lacks love.”

The only thing i managed to finish reading by Coetzee and actually liked is “Youth”. But this new book of his, The Diary of a Bad Year, sounds extremely interesting. Not only because it contains some “strong opinions” on current events: Bush Administration and Guantanamo, but also because it seems to be using an unique format in print:

“Diary of a Bad Year” takes a daring form: Señor C’s essays occupy the bulk of each page, more or less, but running beneath them, like the news crawl on a TV screen, are what read like short diary entries by Señor C and by Anya, which offer a running commentary on the developing relationship of employer and employee, and which convey the plot of the novel, such as it is. So a typical page is segmented like the back of a scarab beetle, and the reader must choose to read either one narrative strand at a time or one page at a time and thus two or three strands simultaneously. In practice, one does a bit of both—a gulp of essay, a snatch of diary—and the broken form usefully, but relatively painlessly, corrupts any easy relation to innocent continuity.

Last but not the least, the protagonist of the novel is a J. S. Bach fan!! This is new. Knowing this little fact alone seems to make me like Coetzee a little more. How cold can a person be if he loves Bach?

The second part of “Diary of a Bad Year” records the private ideas and responses of Señor C—what he calls his “gentler set of opinions.” These are more passionate, more fragmentary, and more irrational than his public utterances. One of them, “On J. S. Bach,” begins:


The best proof we have that life is good, and therefore that there may perhaps be a God after all, who has our welfare at heart, is that to each of us, on the day we are born, comes the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. It comes as a gift, unearned, unmerited, for free.

Squall Lines – J. M. Coetzee’s “Diary of a Bad Year.”, by James Wood. The New Yorker, Issue of December 24th, 2007.