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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A meditation on death and the claims of writing
Elizabeth Costello is an aging novelist, resident (like Coetzee) in Australia, celebrated primarily for work now long in the past, and tied hand and foot to the celebrity circuit of lectures and honorary awards. The chapters of the books are episodes from her life as she moves towards death, shedding certain abiding concerns and finding that others emerge with...
Published on 4 Sept. 2011 by Paul Bowes

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3.0 out of 5 stars Coetzee in a drag
I came to Coetzee after a decade with this deceptively slim title. Coetzee's prose and observations still have that vice-like effect on me, and I was almost breathless turning page after page watching him muse via his lead character, Costello. I finished the book in one evening, but could recollect next to nothing the next morning, hence a rather curious book: Fabulously...
Published 11 months ago by coronaurora


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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not fun, 25 Aug. 2011
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This review is from: Elizabeth Costello (Paperback)
This book has been well reviewed by others already - suffice to say then that I think Coetzee's output includes some of the best works of fiction ever written (Disgrace, Foe, Master of Petersburg etc), and so it is a major disappointment that this is so dense and impenetrable, and, it would appear to me at least, pretty pointless. Unfortunately just not worth ploughing through, even for Coetzee fans.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tout nu, 15 Feb. 2010
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elizabeth Costello (Paperback)
In this more or less loosely constructed novel built around lectures given by the author's double, the Australian writer Elisabeth Costello, J. M. Coetzee puts himself `tout nu' by tackling head-on all important human issues as there are literature (writing and the responsibility of the writer), evil (holocausts), religion, the ravages of politics, the role of the university or sex.

Literature, the miracle of writing and crisis
Books are put better together than the writer, whose aim is to live on through its creatures (seeking immortality) and to measure himself against the masters. `His business is to bring inert matter to life or opening eyes to human depravity (shaking people).'
But the writer has also responsibilities, for `certain things are not good to read or to write.'
Like the great writer H. Von Hofmannsthal in `The Lord Chandos Letter' (quoted in this novel), an author has also self-doubts: `has everything she has said, all her finger-pointing and accusing, been not only wrong-headed, but mad, completely mad?'

Evil (against animals)
In extremely harsh words, J.M. Coetzee denounces the places of death (the slaughterhouses) around us, making evil a banality. `Each day a fresh holocaust, yet our moral being is untouched.' `At the bottom, we protect our own kind. Thumbs up to human babies, thumbs down to veal calves.

Evil (by religion)
Christianism killed everything: `the Greeks were damned, the Indians were damned, the Zulus were damned', because `extra ecclesiam nulla salvatio.'
`We need Hellenism as an alternative to Christianity. We should not live in the hereafter but in the here and now.'

Evil (by universities)
The core of the universities today is moneymaking. The Studio humanitatis died as sterile text analysis (textual scholarship).

Evil (by politics)
The author's target here are the Europeans and their historical guilt for the extermination of whole peoples, for its wars and its colonialism: `Europe has spread across the world like a cancer, until today it ravages life forms, animals, plants, habitats, languages.'

Dream
The author's nirvana is the classless society or a world from which poverty, disease, illiteracy, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and the rest of the bad litany have been exorcised.

Sex
In the former USSR, people were fed up with lectures about communism. To attract at least some audience, party members had to invent teasing titles like `The three Forms of Love'. Of course, the lecture room was packed. The speaker began his lecture as follows: the first form of love, heterosexuality, is, I hope, known by everybody. The second form of love, homosexuality is, as you know, forbidden in our country. So, there rests only the third form of love for our lecture today and that is the love of the people for our Party. (courtesy A. Zinoviev)
So, for the subject of sex, one should read J.M. Coetzee's novel. It's very rewarding.

All in all, J.M. Coetzee's message is loud and clear: `We cannot live thus; each creature is key to all other creatures.'

This book is a must read for all lovers of world literature and for all Coetzee fans.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Considering evil, considering life, 16 Sept. 2009
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elizabeth Costello (Paperback)
(Previously called The Lives of Animals in its first print, re-released as Elisabeth Costello in 2003)

This is a strange novel - would anyone else get away with it? Reports of long speeches given at various symposiums and conferences, interspersed with short bursts of other people's reactions to them. Part of the narrative comes from the son of Elisabeth - and this early view of someone outside the central character is slightly more novelistic. The rest of the novel is given over to the record of a solipsistic writer who has come to the end of her writing life but is still feted by the literary world because she once wrote a book which was seen as a challenge to James Joyce's Ulysses and which won a literary prize.

It's impossible to read Elisabeth Costello with anything but great deal of attention and be swept up into the philosophical arguments. I saw it, finally, as a kind of argument between the author and some of the challenges of the modern literary world. Elisabeth herself seemed to be a mixture of Coetzee and someone like Doris Lessing - at any rate a member of the literary intelligentsia. One of the other characters - a womaniser and a bit of a charlatan - was probably meant to be some kind of amalgam of the black African male writer.

Animal rights have been a concern of J M Coetzee's since his novel Disgrace (a brutally compelling read), but here the subject seems to be treated with an astringent calm that seems almost foreign to the agenda beneath the philosophising. Some books are impressive just because of their enormous ambition. Elisabeth Costello is impressive but it's also a puzzle. It ranges over (without pronouncing on) not just animals and our enslavement of them, but aspects of Christian-Greek theology, and it considers evil, but not its opposite, good, which a Manichean will provide for herself throughout. Kafka figures large in it and perhaps stands for our literary heritage, which shows our reduced relations with each other and how we seem to have made the natural world absent from our lives, perhaps placing it directly in opposition to our highly theoretical politics (in practice) and our heedless consumerism of the planet?

The end passage is all about belief. Elisabeth resides in a small town, trying to persuade a jury (of her peers?) to let her through the gate to the next world. She is in an after-life; but I don't think Coetzee believes in an after-life at all and this is just a philosophical tease.

I feel his aim was to set up an eternal dilemma: what, finally, can we say we believe in? Elisabeth at first says, "Nothing.", or that belief is not important - and that belief can only be a matter of personal interpretation. As a writer, she is a kind of secretary waiting to be called to write the next chapter that the world dictates to her. That's not enough for the jury, so she has to go away and rewrite her submission. She then says she believes in the world as a natural phenomenon and cites the tiny frogs of her homeland who burrow beneath the earth each autumn and come alive again joyously each spring. But, again, that's not enough - she's sent away again, another rewrite called for. She is being kept in limbo until she gives the right answer, but there the novel leaves her (which suggests that Coetzee thinks there's no better answer, no greater revelation than for us to believe in our senses, in the world as it exists for us?).

Is the jury waiting for Elisabeth to cite faith in God? If so, Coetzee seems to refuse this as, perhaps, the final betrayal of his humanist beliefs. It seems to me that he also wants to suggest that the `jury' is part of the ultimate failure of human endeavour? That there will always be judgement made at the end of life and the individual human being will always be found wanting? We must stop thinking that we can be perfected? We must accept our fallibility?

At the end of the book is a letter (which comes from the 15th century) further extollling the senses (sexual) and the passion for living as well as for writing. The letter is from Elizabeth, Lady Chandos and is given in full. "We are not meant to live like this," she says and then writes of rush and rapture. "All is allegory... Each creature is key to all other creatures. A dog sitting in a patch of sun licking itself is at one moment a dog and at the next a vessel of revelation." But she rejects this also: "We are not made for revelation, I want to cry out... revelation that sears the eye like staring into the sun." Finally, then, we are left with the idea that human beings cannot bear the truth and beauty of the earth they live upon.

Thinking about it now, nine months after reading this book, I'm inclined to think I missed the meaning of that last epiphanical passage - that we human beings may not be equal to the blazing revelations of the world, that all our great brains have only given us is the ability to know that we have lost our way. The simplicity, beauty and joy of existence is something that we no longer recognise in our overwhelming materiality. We have lost the capacity for truthful revelation through experience and have ended up searching for it within ourselves - the very place where it cannot reside.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars slight confusion, 5 Feb. 2007
This review is from: Elizabeth Costello (Paperback)
Before deciding to write my own review I've taken a few minutes to read the others that are here already. Partly this was because I was confused when I came to the end of this book, and I wondered whether the other readers could shed any light on it. They haven't really, except to confirm that the views expressed by Elizabeth Costello are those of Coetzee himself. I wasn't aware of that, and gave him credit for being able to represent a character's views so comprehensively. I guess that's a lot easier when they are your own views. I'm still fairly impressed though, since the characters Costello spars with provide many opposing viewpoints which in my opinion are more cohesive. I thought that Costello's principles and ideas were becoming more and more confused as the story progressed, perhaps showing that she was becoming a little senile in her old age, and didn't seem to know what she thought any more, or whether she was thinking was right. If Costello's opinions are indeed the opinions of Coetzee, it seems to me that he is expressing his own discomfort and confusion.

I liked they way that the novel was told through a series of speeches and papers. I felt that it provided a number of gaps for the reader to fill in. However, the thing that confused me was the postscript - the letter to Francis Bacon. I didn't understand that at all.

Anyway, previous to this I'd read "Waiting for the Barbarians" which I enjoyed very much. I enjoyed "Elizabeth Costello" almost as much, and will certainly be reading more Coetzee in future.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A poor offering, 9 Aug. 2005
This review is from: Elizabeth Costello (Paperback)
Coetzee is a wonderful novelist, and has produced some of the finest work to come out of South Africa. It is difficult to work out why he decided to create Elizabeth Costello as a mouthpiece for his philsophical views.
Like many of the other reviewers, I bought this book because I thought it was a novel. It is not, and is a thinly disguised collection of essays, which have no common theme, and are hardly united by the flimsiest of plots. Even as a series of essays, it is not a very rewarding read. It would have been far better had the author put the effort into producing another novel, which is where his talents clearly lie.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Frustating rehash of previous works, 10 July 2010
By 
Mingo Bingo "Mingobingo" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elizabeth Costello (Paperback)
Elizabeth Costello is an aging writer engaged on a tour of the world, taking part in debates, collecting awards and listening to talks.

Except she isn't.

Elizabeth Costello is a fictional constraint, invented to enable JM Coetzee to collect together a number of previously released pieces in the guise of a novel.

All the main content here has been published elsewhere as essays and articles. Coetzee has simply strung them together with a thin narrative in order to republish them. Which begs the question, why bother? I still don't know the answer.

Individually the essays and thoughts are intelligent, well thought through and presented. Here they are flung together, turned into conversations, contradictory, fractured and messy. The result is confusing, frustrating and slightly insulting to the reader.

Why pretend this is a novel? Why not just publish them as a series of essays?

Only Coetzee (or his publisher) knows.

I nearly didn't finish this book, only to be annoyed that I did, because the terrible riff on Kafka at the end made the rest of this strange book seem even more risible.

A pretentious folly at best. A cynical ploy to extract cash from a fan base at worst.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very heavy going, 27 Dec. 2004
By 
G. L. Haggett "glynlhaggett" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elizabeth Costello (Paperback)
A determinedly literary novel taking the form of, in my opinion, a none-too-successful excursion into philosophy and the meaning of life and art, using the travails of a successful female novelist as a backdrop. Unfortunately, I have to confess to finding it very hard going; the final chapter was nigh on unreadable for me. I suspect it will appeal more to those with a more detailed grasp of the literary references (Kafka and Joyce feature strongly).
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome, 25 Feb. 2005
By 
Sancho Mahle (Charlotte, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Elizabeth Costello (Paperback)
In ELIZABETH COSTELLO, we find Coetzee confronting some of the fundamental structures of the society we have known for so long, forcing the reader to think and have an insight into life. This thought-provoking novel which is actually a collection of essays with some having been published before as lectures, is a deep but entertaining book. Coetzee uses Costello Elizabeth as a fictional character to put forward these essays and uses other characters as critics to create a dialectical outlook for the book. It is this approach that I think made this book so unique. A reader is forced to think beyond his beliefs. And in so doing, the reader is forced to evolve. I recommend this book along with The USURPER AND OTHERS, NERVOUS CONDITIONS to any curious mind.
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10 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing, 15 Dec. 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Elizabeth Costello (Hardcover)
When I bought the book, I was looking forward to read another novel by an author I like very much. However, what I discovered was that this is not a novel but a collection of essays and lectures masquerading as a novel. Although the parts themselves were well-written, they did not become a whole. The parts dealing with Elizabeth Costello as a character were entirely unsuccessful, she was neither a realistic character, nor an allegorical construct, just a vague construct which never held together.
The whole 'novel' gave the impression of an author desperate to reuse some of his old material (if I were mean I would add to make some extra money from it). What would have been acceptable as a collection of essays failed miserably as a 'novel'.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very hard going, 6 Oct. 2009
This review is from: Elizabeth Costello (Paperback)
I found this dull, lifeless, very difficult to read - essentially very hard going. This is the first Coetzee novel I've read and based on this, I probably won't want to read any others.
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Elizabeth Costello
Elizabeth Costello by J M Coetzee (Paperback - 2 Sept. 2004)
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