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Summertime [Hardcover]

J M Coetzee
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
RRP: 17.99
Price: 15.59 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

13 Aug 2009

A young English biographer is working on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. He plans to focus on the years from 1972-1977 when Coetzee, in his thirties, is sharing a run-down cottage in the suburbs of Cape Town with his widowed father. This, the biographer senses, is the period when he was 'finding his feet as a writer'.

Never having met Coetzee, he embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to him - a married woman with whom he had an affair, his favourite cousin Margot, a Brazilian dancer whose daughter had English lessons with him, former friends and colleagues. From their testimony emerges a portrait of the young Coetzee as an awkward, bookish individual with little talent for opening himself to others. Within the family he is regarded as an outsider, someone who tried to flee the tribe and has now returned, chastened. His insistence on doing manual work, his long hair and beard, rumours that he writes poetry evoke nothing but suspicion in the South Africa of the time.

Sometimes heartbreaking, often very funny, Summertime shows us a great writer as he limbers up for his task. It completes the majestic trilogy of fictionalised memoir begun with Boyhood and Youth.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker; First Edition edition (13 Aug 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846553180
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846553189
  • Product Dimensions: 14.9 x 21.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 362,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J.M. Coetzee's work includes Waiting For the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Boyhood, Youth, Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year. He was the first author to win the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

Product Description


Coetzee has always been a writer with a cold eye and here he turns that eye on himself...there is something satisfying in the bleakness, in Coetzee's refusal to present the world other than it appears to him, and to subject his character to this cool, unforgiving analysis. (Allan Massie, The Scotsman)

Book Description

A rich, funny, and deeply affecting autobiographical new novel from one of the world's greatest living writers.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
By Jonathan Birch VINE VOICE
Ostensibly, J.M. Coetzee's Summertime is a third instalment of autobiography, succeeding Boyhood (1998) and Youth (2002) (both of which, incidentally, are excellent). But this description belies the book's true nature in two ways. First, Summertime is so far from being a conventional autobiography it's essentially a work of fiction. Second, it's a terrific book in its own right, and can be enjoyed without any prior knowledge of its forerunners.

The book begins in a style resembling Boyhood and Youth. Brief scenes from the life of Coetzee, now a thirtysomething in 1970s apartheid South Africa, are narrated in crisp third-person prose. Coetzee, we learn, is a down-and-out, unemployed and living with his elderly father, disgusted by apartheid but stuck in a rut of inaction verging on paralysis. But each scene stops abruptly, clearly unfinished, and after 15 pages the narrative stops altogether. What's going on? Here emerges the book's central conceit: Coetzee has died, leaving behind notebooks of assorted scraps. A would-be biographer, seeking to reconstruct "the story" of Coetzee's life, interviews a number of people who knew Coetzee at that time, and transcripts of these (fictional) interviews occupy most of the book's remainder.

The interviewees give us little vignettes in which Coetzee is a ghostly figure, a barely-there anonynimity, content to be manipulated and exploited by stronger characters: a man defined by his fleeting and unsatisfying connections to others. He is a supporting character. "I am perfectly aware it is John you want to hear about, not me," says Julia, Coetzee's one-time lover.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The tour de force that is 'Disgrace' was my first foray into Coetzee's work and I am yet to be as impressed by anything of his I've read since then. It had a restraint and subtlety that I have found missing from Coetzee's other work, `Summertime' included. There's something I find a bit too smug and self-indulgent about JMC as an author that manifests itself somehow in everything of his I've read bar `Disgrace'.
As has been noted `Summertime' is a fictionalised biography of Coetzee's namesake which might or might not be a thinly veiled replica of his own life during his `wilderness' years as a 30-something aspiring writer. Eventually I cared less about whether it was genuinely about him than how brazenly Coetzee was manipulating his reader. Some of the accounts of the `fictional' JM Coetzee are so unsympathetic and riddled with self-interest (for instance that of Julia a former lover and Adriana, the Brazilian refugee for which he harbours an obsession) that they lack credibility. I was left wondering if Coetzee wished to convey that his alter ego was misunderstood. Perhaps he was not the impersonal, machine-like pseudo-misanthrope that these women portrayed and tried to achieve this by making their accounts so devoid of balance as to turn him into a one-dimensional character in which no intelligent person could believe. Some consider this a clever literary device but for me this was more unwelcome naval-gazing by Coetzee...the recurring theme of interest in a younger woman, his alleged froideur towards the opposite sex, critique of his writing style etc. Some of these themes are present in `Disgrace' but they never threaten to eclipse the more outward looking nature of the narrative which sought to get to grips with a newly post-Apartheid South Africa.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Book Review

Summertime by J M Coetzee

Summertime (2009) is the third of South African John Coetzee's fictionalised autobiographies following Boyhood (1997) and youth (2002). The inspired novel centres around a young English biographer who is working on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee, focusing on the years 1972-1977 when Coetzee was in his thirties.
Following the premature end to his six years in America, John returned to South Africa to live in the outskirts of Cape Town with his widowed father. This period is emphasised by the biographer as an era when Coetzee was `finding his feet as a writer'.
Never having met Coetzee, he embarks on an exciting journey of interviewing a number of characters who were physically and emotionally involved with him.

The Coetzee that we are introduced to, through a series of interviews, is lonely and uncomfortable with almost every aspect of his life. Further on in the novel, a more humuorous side is developed as Coetzee becomes sexually involved with a number of female characters. He takes up dancing in attempt to woo a woman, only to make a fool of himself. Coetzee continues to place himself in awkward situations throughout the novel creating an ongoing theme of comedy for the reader to enjoy.

Within the novel, he is regarded with mistrust by his family as he engages in manual labour in penitence for his country's long history of `making other people do our work for us as we sit in the shade and watch'. His love for the Coetzee family estate in the Karoo remains as passionate as ever it was in Boyhood but everywhere else he is lost. South Africa has become a `loud angry place'.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by paul a simma
5.0 out of 5 stars Summertime review
J M Coetzee is a must-read. I'm sure he'd hate a review like that in poor English but what they hey.
Published 3 months ago by Syd Marland
3.0 out of 5 stars Uninvolved.
I didn't rate this as highly as Coetzee's other novels. It is a fine enough work but I was irritated by the supposed writer compiling a biography. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Rosalind Minett
3.0 out of 5 stars More a disappointment than a disgrace
Coetzee enjoys the irony of putting his supposed midlife on the page. The device of the writer aiming to encapsulate the relationships Coetzee experienced for a book did not work... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Lara
4.0 out of 5 stars good reading
Not what i expected , it is reading for our book group, bit worried about the sex in it. They said they didn't mind! Read more
Published 14 months ago by ann naden
5.0 out of 5 stars Searingly honest
A really brave book. A very difficult concept to make work but Coetzee pulls it off. It the the combination of integrity and Coetzee's skill as a writer that makes this a very... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Simon Rew
4.0 out of 5 stars "A book should be an axe to chop open the frozen sea inside us."
Summertime was shortlisted for the 2009 Booker Prize, but didn't win. I'm not surprised because it is a mostly unsatisfactory read. Not a novel, more like notes for one. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Eileen Shaw
3.0 out of 5 stars 'portrait of the author as an outsider'
Set in the future after his death, Coetzee imagines a biographer interviewing a handful of people who figured in his life. Read more
Published on 9 Aug 2012 by sally tarbox
5.0 out of 5 stars Intricate but lugubrious metafiction
J. M. Coetzee has structured the novel SUMMERTIME to read as if it is the research of a biographer. In particular, a presumed academic surnamed Vincent, supposedly working in... Read more
Published on 27 July 2012 by Ethan Cooper
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but raises many questions.
This was a Reading Group book. I have never read any Coetzee before, though Disgrace is on my reading pile. Read more
Published on 10 Mar 2012 by Elaine Daniels
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