Thursday, 8 May 2014

Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee

This is my first Coetzee, and for the first sixty pages, it seemed to be an interesting but not arresting book about an older man coping with losing a leg, and his mobility and freedom, and the after-effects of such a loss, including falling in love with his nurse. Nothing earthshattering.

And then the author showed up.

Not Coetzee, but the fictional author Elizabeth Costello (about whom I think he's written another book?) and suddenly the book got a whole lot more interesting. Costello wrangles with this recalcitrant character who persists in moving slowly, in picking what she thinks are the wrong narrative choices, and not being quite interesting enough for her to write about.

And in a strange way, this becomes a courtship between author and character, with the author trying to mold the character to a more interesting story, but the character resisting her charms and her machinations.

The main character maintains his dignity through these schemes, never quite believing that Costello is the author of his story, instead of a slightly batty author who showed up on his doorstep on day, wanting to write about him.

And so this becomes a meditation on character-driven storytelling, and how sometimes characters just will not do what you want them to do. I didn't love the book, but I enjoyed what Coetzee was trying to do.

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