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Russell V. Dove (Tottenham, London)

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Summertime
Summertime
by J. M. Coetzee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointment, 27 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Summertime (Hardcover)
Those who enjoyed the previous 2 books in this trilogy - Boyhood and Youth - will no doubt want to read Summertime, but I came to this book cold. It is a fictionalised biography of the writer structured around interviews with people who knew Coetzee in his middle years in the 1970s. The interviewees are principally women, 2 of whom had affairs with him, but far from being flattering these interviews present often negative and widely differing pictures of Coetzee as a deeply unsettled human being not at home in his identity as an English-speaking Afrikaner, a social misfit or indeed a stalker. It would be wrong to identify the fictionalised Coetzee with the actual writer (the former has already died at the time of the interviews) while the book also explores the tension between the actual self and the persona as seen by others; they are never the same. We never hear Coetzee in his own words apart from small fragments and indeed the interviews too are mediated through the work of interviewer, transcriber or translator. As one interviewee takes the interviewer to task for editing her story, "you are putting words in my mouth"; two are translated from other languages. None is ever an authentic or true account.
Is this then self-revelation by Coetzee or is all a playful deception? As I read I increasingly found the idea of a writer writing his own biography in this way egotistical. This is not mitigated by the fact the person described is an unattractive one. In fact we learn little of substance of the real writer (if that were his intention) or the fictional Coetzee. The interviews often reveal more of the character of the interviewees than their subject. Perhaps this is all part of the game.
Playing with the nature of narrative in this way is undoubtedly clever, and some of the interviews are entertaining in their own right - the feisty Julia who deliberately sets out to have an affair with Coetzee or the Brazilian dancer Adriana. The quality of the writing is also as you'd expect from an author of Coetzee's calibre, yet in the end the overall intention and fragmented nature of the book are unsatisfactory. The background of 1970s apartheid South Africa and its banal evil remain just that - background. So, what in the end do we learn about anything, and do we care? The book ends as it starts with an account of the fictional Coetzee trying and failing to engage with his father. Sadly the writer also failed to engage with this reader.


Cloudburst and other choral works
Cloudburst and other choral works
Price: £13.25

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars purest ecstacy, 6 Mar. 2007
I hope it is not cultural imperialism if I express astonishment that music of such transcendent beauty could come from a son of Nevada and not perhaps an English cathedral city where you would hear some of the finest choral work sung every day. Eric Whitacre's writing here recalls that of John Rutter or even Arvo Paert, both deeply versed in the choral traditons of their own lands. The music has subtlety, a fine attention to text, maturity and emotional resonance which are all the more amazing from a young composer who came to choral music comparatively late. Most powerful I found were the first item, "i thank you God for most this amazing day" a setting of a poem by ee cummings and the Old Testament text "When David heard..", but the disc is wonderful throughout, and the performances by Polyphony under Stephen Layton flawless. Thank you Radio 3 for bringing this disc to my attention. Buy it.


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