This was an extremely challenging read for me, both in terms of structure and content. It was also engaging, wise, slightly sentimental and provocative by turns.
JC is an ageing South African writer, now resident in Australia (so far, so autobiographical). He is invited by a German publisher to contribute to a book of opinion pieces and one strand of the narrative is his opinions. A second strand is his relationship with Anya who lives in another apartment in the same building as him and a third is Anya's relationship with her partner.
Structurally, it was challenging, because each page contains either two or three separate threads, separated by a line and the threads are not discrete to that page. I ended up reading each thread until it ran out and then going back to the second thread etc. 3 bookmarks job!
If you can get past this structure, the content is challenging in that some of JC's opinions seen designed to be provocative, and some are incredibly philosophical and astute. This isn't something to read on the bus on the way to work - I had to concentrate. However, the rewards were worth the effort.
The contrast between JC's somewhat high brow approach and Anya's more down-to-earth approach is touching and the reader sees them both learning to see things from a different angle. The contrast between JC and Anya's partner is almost painful: the partner coming up with a ruse to steal from JC and Anya finding that her feelings are protective and moral is compelling reading. JMC doesn't resort to fluffy endings either, which I prefer when they aren't appropriate.
I enjoyed this on balance. I had only read Disgrace in the past, and will now look out for more.
This book follows a South African student from Cape Town who dreams of moving to Europe and becoming a poet. He obsesses with the idea of living life to its full intensity, so that these experiences can then be translated into his art.
Having saved enough money to leave a homeland on the verge of a race-war, he moves to London to follow in the footsteps of some of his favourite poets, but rather than finding inspiration he instead ends up becoming an outsider, unable to communicate with those around him and stuck in a monotonous job. Frustrations mount as he is unable to sustain a relationship as the women he meets fail to notice the 'fire inside' him. Ultimately, he continually falls short in terms of his lifestyle, writing and relationships.
I think the book is partly auto-biographical, in which case, Coetzee has given a frank and sometimes brutal, assessment of his younger self. I'm sure plenty of people will recognise the conflict between youthful idealism and the reality of the daily grind, and I suppose the book's greatest strength is the way the main character's hopes and dreams are gradually crushed until the ideals have been replaced with something akin to an acceptance of mediocrity.