2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
After an accident (`Your missing leg is just a sign, a symbol or symptom') an old man looks back at his life (`a wasted chance') of missed opportunities (`having no child was the great mistake of my life'). Partly to blame are `those in whose lives you are born (and who) do not pass away.'
As a lonely heart, he looks for affection and falls in love with his nurse, who perfectly looks after `a helpless old man in ruinous pyjamas trailing an obscene pink stump behind him from which the sodden bandages are slipping.' His nurse, however, is already married and has a son.
The `slow man' projects his dream to become a father in his nurse's son.
One of the main characters of the tale is the writer Elizabeth Costello (subject of another book by J.M. Coetzee) who is introduced in the middle of this book. Her role here, however, is not so masterly woven in the plot as the author Daniel Defoe in Coetzee's masterpiece `Foe'. She seems rather to be more an early deus ex machina.
This book, where `the need to be loved and the storytelling are connected', is a very worthwhile read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The first 80 pages of this book are riveting. Coetzee's prose is almost flawless as we follow Paul literally from the moment he's hit by young Wayne Bright or Blight, through his experiences with rehabilitation nurses and social services, unsuitable carers and finally the arrival of Marijana. It's a very human experience - the reader understands Paul's feelings that his life is over, even as you are frustrated by his willingness to just give up. With Marijana, Paul sees a chance at a fresh life and again, you sympathise with his dreams of becoming her lover and thereby gaining the family he never had.
All this just seems to stop when Elizabeth Costello comes on the page. She seems to represent Coetzee himself and instead of a story about a man's rehabilitation from amputation, the rest of the book is essentially Coetzee's musings on the writing process and specifically, the relationship between author and character. This robs the story of all its life as you become aware of its artificial nature. Costello's discussions with Rayment are just an excuse to swap speeches, a sickness that spreads to Marijana and her family. If you're a writer, then there is some intellectual interest in this but as a reader I felt disengaged from the story and all sympathy I felt for Paul disappeared.
Like I said, Coetzee's prose is excellent. I liked the way he set out Marijana's use of English, I enjoyed Paul's inner thoughts and I thought the imagery was great. It's just a shame that the introduction of Costello robs the story of any direction and sets up something of a flat ending.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 30 May 2007
This novel got off to a great start. It explores the life of a middle-aged man (Paul) who loses his leg in an accident. Paul decides he doesn't want an artificial prosthesis and faces life without it but with the help of various people. A particularly poignant part of the story is when he falls in the shower and is in danger of catching hypothermia because the cold water is cascading down on top of him. He fantasizes about women and develops a crush on his care-giver. However, half way through the story a character called Elizabeth is introduced who also happens to feature in another one of his novels; the reader is rudely awakened - is this character writing the story about Paul, after all she seems to know all his thoughts and feelings? How could a stranger just move into his apartment and know all about him? Why did the writer invent this character? The reader is left with many unanswered questions which prove unsatisfying and irritating.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 November 2007
It's not first time that J. M. Coetzee, the Nobel Prise winner, has put into the fictional characters in his novels. But in Slow Man, his first novel after getting Nobel Prize, is unique in several ways. Mrs. Elisabeth Costello, the protagonist of his earlier novel visits the life of a Slow Man, Mr. Paul Rayment.
Here the man, debilitated by age and an accident, wishes to replenish his love-less life with half dream and half reality. Though he needs his nurse due to his disability, too, he wants to have her son as his son. He, however, doesn't rule out a corporeal desire vis a vis his nurse's younger body. For her son's future he wishes to be a benefactor.
Mrs. Elisabeth Costello, a sudden and uninvited guest in his life, confuses him about the real purposes left in his life.
In shape, the slow Man is as small as other novels by J. M. Coetzee, and in taste it's as strong as pickles from the hot sand of Australia. Slow Man is a must readable one for those who enjoy the class and the slow pace of writing penned by a master.
56 of 67 people found the following review helpful
One day while cycling along the Magill road in Adelaide Paul Rayment is knocked down by a car, resulting in the amputation of his leg. Humiliated, he retreats to his flat and a succession of day-care nurses. After a series of carers who are either "unsuitable" or just temporary, he happens upon Marijana, with whom he has a European childhood in common: his in France, hers in Croatia. Marijana nurses him tactfully and efficiently, ministering to his new set of needs. His feelings for her soon become deeper and more complex. He attempts to fund her son Drago's passage through college, a move which meets the refusal of her husband, causing a family rift. Drago moves in with Paul, but not before an entirely different complication steps in, in the form of celebrated Australian novelist Elizabeth Costello, who threatens to take over the direction of Paul's life in ways he's not entirely comfortable with.
Slow Man has to get the award for "hardest novel of the year to unwrap", in that it's actually more like three novels layered variously on top of each other, and all in a mere 263 pages! It is also, without doubt, the most challenging novel of the year. Coetzee having won the thing two times already and being a Nobel laureate, it never stood a chance getting to the Booker shortlist, but that doesn't stop it being possibly the best novel of the year by miles.
The start is relatively easy to get to grips with: Paul is knocked from his bike, has his limb removed, and becomes one of those who must submit to being cared for. Just like David Lurie from his Booker-prize-winning Disgrace, Paul stubbornly refuses the aid which could make his life superficially normal, (an artificial limb,) and surrenders himself stubbornly to his incapacity. So begins a novel that seems to be concerning itself with an analysis of the spirit of care and the psychological effect any severe injury (or, symbolically, any obvious difference to others) has on a person when their life is "truncated" so. And it is a superb beginning, too. The first 100 pages are astounding, presented in Coetzee's trademark analytical prose that manages to be both spare and yet busting with riches.
It's complicated a little by the fact that Rayment is clearly a kind of semi alter-ego for Coetzee, who himself is reputed to be very keen on cycling the streets of Adelaide. Coetzee and his protagonist share a similar history, too: divorced Rayment grew up in France and now lives in a quiet lonely flat in Adelaide, where he feels out of place. He has never, he thinks, felt the sense of having a real "home" that many do. South-African born Coetzee's early fiction focused much on the White "place" in South Africa; he escaped to London in his youth, he has since lived out extended Professorships in the USA, and is now based in Adelaide. Coetzee, too, feels this sense of unbelonging that is rife in Paul. Slow Man is almost claustrophobic in its sense of lives ending and purposes coming to a close: living in Australia and with South Africa mostly stable, Coetzee is having to look elsewhere for his fiction. And he seems to be turning the focus largely onto himself. His 2003 novel was a series of vignettes concerning Coetzee's alter-ego, the famed but fictional elderly Australian novelist Elizabeth Costello.
When the woman in question knocks on Paul's door, then, it becomes clear Coetzee has far more on his mind than a mere novel about growing old and out of place and cared for. There are potential problems with what Coetzee's doing here: by self-consciously bringing Costello (himself) in, it can seem as if he doesn't really know what to do with this fiction he's making, doesn't know where to go with it, so brings her in to play some nice metafictional tricks, to talk about writing and character and their relationship to the author ("you came to me", Costello says to Paul.) instead of getting on with the real business at hand. She pushes Paul to become "more of a main character", as if she's uncertain about him but can't entirely control him herself. (Though in the end we realise that everyone can be a main character, however dull they may seem. Because they are not.) It might also seem a little heavy-handed, an obvious and self-consciously clever trick. It might seem like these things, but for Coetzee's absolute skill at weaving his narrative together seamlessly. Costello never does seem out of place, not really. There's an air of mystery to her and her presence, some things that are never quite clear in the reader's head, but Coetzee handles her appearance so smoothly it's almost dreamlike. He stitches her into the book almost flawlessly. Not only that, but she becomes an entire character herself, rich with her own frailties and concerns. He's got himself a brilliant set-up, then: like an illusion you can only fully glimpse the parts of separately, he's managed to give himself a narrative where he give us a novel about Paul, himself, and the act of creating fictions, without any one getting in the way of another, and without the doing so seeming obvious or contrived. It's a rather remarkable achievement.
Not that all this intelligent manipulation comes without problems. The fact that we have two versions (Paul and Elizabeth) of Coetzee almost set-up against one another allows him to explore lots of interesting philosophical problems, but he's doing so much here that these questions often just end up going in circles and knocking off one another. The attrition between the two characters says something vaguely itchy about Coetzee's own feelings about his acts of artistic creation, though the way the two finally seem to make peace with one another in the end is pleasingly conclusive in a novel where the other remaining aspects are resolved rather ambiguously.
Slow Man, his first book since winning the Nobel in 2003, is a novel that consists of a full internal novel and at least one full external one. Childless Paul's legacy remains uncertain (where will his meddling with Marijana's family get him? will he find an heir in Drago, if only symbolically?) but Coetzee's is not: with his beautifully stark prose he has left us unnerving and important pictures of South Africa and what it means to be an outsider, and is now - perhaps uncertainly; it may be this tremulous uncertainty of purpose that is the only slight stain on Slow Man - moving on to new terrain. His body of work is one of the most impressive of any current writer in English. Anyone who wants to know just how much of a transcendent experience fiction can be needs to read his work.
I did not like this book. The main character, Paul Rayment, is hit by a van and ends up in hospital having his leg amputated above the knee. He is nursed by a variety of women initially, and then hires Marijana, a Croatian woman who turns out to have a young family, including two daughters, the eldest of which is a thief, and a son, Drago. It isn’t long before Paul confesses that he has fallen in love with Marijana, who then disappears from the scene for a while. In her place appears Elisabeth Costello. This is a woman about whom Coetzee has written about in a couple of other novels. She is noted novelist and animal rights activist, famous for a novel which re-tells James Joyce’s Ulysses from the perspective of Bloom’s wife.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the writing, but the protagonist is negative space, repressed, depressed, gloomy and unable to respond to his straightened circumstances with anything but apathy. He refuses to have a prosthesis fitted but offers to provide money so that Drago can go to College. He’s a rich man, a misogynist, who thinks he can buy his way into another man’s family. Elisabeth Costello has none of the energy of her previous appearances in his novels and gradually I became convinced that she was only there as a device, to allow him to continue the pointless rambling that stands in for their conversations. After all, he couldn’t converse like that with Marijana, who can only converse in pidgin English. If he wanted to rid himself of the character Elisabeth Costello, why not have her be the one to get a leg chopped off? Dreary stuff, unconvincing and very tired. In a sense, Coetzee here follows the standard advice and kills his darling.
on 4 March 2010
Coetzee's Slow Man begins sharp and dynamic, gripping the reader in the first sentence, and pulls him into the quick sand of his prose, but then buries him deep in a mire of confusion from the middle of the book to the end.
Paul Rayment, a sixty year old man on a bike, has a serious road traffic accident and later ends up disabled at home with a nurse he says he loves. Rayment has either lost his senses, or is not smart enough to keep his thoughts to himself, and he tells the nurse, Marijana, a married woman with three children, that he loves her. This throws her into a spin. She is a professional and in no way, can or will, reciprocate his feelings. She is an intelligent, highly qualified Catholic Croatian woman and reacts by staying away for some time. But Rayment hounds her, even when he knows that her marriage is at risk, promising her son a private education, amongst other money related solutions to her family problems, and feigning need of nursing care at times. Later, he lies to her and her husband, saying that he just wants to help, give them some money, set up a trust fund for all the children, and be a sort of god father, whilst still lusting after her.
Of course this is a sad and lonely man whose life has changed through no fault of his own. He may have well lost his morals too through the accident; on the other hand, he may well and truly want to help the family. But he lusts after another man's wife, and that throws into question any purity in his claim to help the family. He tries at the end to patch up the mess, with the family, but not convincingly enough. All he wants, he says in return for his benevolence, is a key to their back door. A recipe for disaster if you ask me.
The quality of Coetzee's writing is clear - the prose is elegant, with the bonus of some comic elements. However, the plot is thin, and just when the author should have brought in something more substantial, such as a solid character or a plot or sub-plot line, he bestows upon the reader, a boring thin-spirited, unreal character, Elizabeth Costello, who confuses the the reader from page 80 to the end.
Elizabeth Costello is supposed to be an author conducting research for her book, for which Paul Rayment berates her from time to time, treating her as a nuisance. However, she acts as if she is actually inside his head, and some form of magicial but old, ugly being, who enters the house and leaves whenever she pleases, offering him words of advice and giving instruction concerning how he should run his life and fix the mess he has made for himself - "I came to find out what happens when a man of sixty engages his heart unsuitably," she says. This is the premise of the novel: a man engaging his heart unsuitably.
Whatever questions are raised in this book though, are not successfully answered or alluded to, leaving the reader feeling unable to join up the dots successfully.
on 4 January 2009
Simply captivating, Coetzee's story line and characterisations are crafted to perfection, every word and phrase is superbly judged with humour and humanity in equal measure.
Living in comfortable, suburban Adelaide sixty-year-old Paul Rayment's future is turned inside-out when he loses a leg as a result of a devastating cycling accident. He retreats from the world outside and his past as he struggles to accept the consequences of his physical loss. He comes to depend entirely on the ministrations of Marijana, a professional nurse of Croatian origin, and gets to know more of her and her family, especially Drago, her teenage son. All seems to be progressing until interrupted by the unheralded arrival of novelist Elizabeth Costello, who seems to want to take over his life and loves. Just why has she appeared on the scene now, or at all, and what are her intentions for Rayment? Is he simply a research project for a new book or is there more to it?
Slow Man could be viewed as a story of mental and physical suffering, a lonely man failing to face up to his seemingly curtailed future and choosing infuriating self-pity as his opt-out. Perhaps it a case of the sad delusions of someone entering his older years who believes he can still offer romance and enjoyment to a younger woman. Or is it a childless individual, out of touch with the modern world who believes there is one last opportunity to act as godfather to a ready-made family who will care for him in his old age?
Coetzee has us tracking all possibilities, and with such skill and sharpness, and he does not provide all the answers. This work of fiction forces us to ask questions of ourselves and those we love and the realities we will all have to deal with at some point. For Paul Rayment, it is the loss of a limb, but we will all have to deal with some sort of loss as we get older, Coetzee simply challenges us to think about that.
Read and enjoy a laureate at his peak.
on 26 May 2010
Coetzee is a master of his craft and displays himsel to have outstanding insight and control of language.
'Slow Man' is slow, it's about normal people in the normal world, and this is never going to be the book that transfers to screen. However, the plot is one in which the writer makes unexpected things happen. Sometimes there doesn;t seem to be a point to them; no moral lesson or blunt irony, it's as if he's just telling us what happens. On occasion they are bizarre, but the events themselves are secondary to the thoughts and interactions of the main character. This cerebral language is captivating.
While reading this I found myself wondering where the story was going, considering potential conclusions and likely epilogues. On reflection they weren't relevant questions. It's a bit like a great painting you just look at and take in. Read, enjoy the journey, and let the writer tell the tale. Such is the voice of the storyteller, the journey is a good one.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
The book hits you hard on the first pages: a sixty-year old man, Paul Rayment, is knocked off his bicycle in a road accident in Adelaide, and has to have a leg amputated. In hospital and back at home he suffers from post-operative indignities, and from depression, his reactions wincingly and bleakly described. He resents his nurses, his social worker and his physiotherapist: at their best, he feels, he is only another case for them; at their worst they talk to him as if he were a child. He becomes more acutely aware than he has ever been before of his loneliness: part of his depression is due to the fact that he has no wife (he divorced many years ago) and no children. He becomes increasingly tetchy in what he says, but even then he keeps much of what he thinks (represented in italics) to himself.
Then he gets a sturdy Croatian-born home nurse, Marijana, who knows intuitively how to look after him without infantilizing him, and he comes to love her. She is a married woman with three children, the eldest, Drago, an attractive 16 year-old boy. Paul does not have, but would love to have, a sexual relationship with her; meanwhile he wants to help her by being a surrogate father to Drago and by paying his fees to go to college.
And then suddenly, a third of the way through the book, this very realistic account suddenly shifts gear. Out of the blue Paul is visited by one Elizabeth Costello, who, we are told, is a well-known Australian novelist. Perhaps there really was a novelist called Elizabeth Costello - but (to me at least) it is clear from her first appearance that the Elizabeth in this story is not a real person at all, but is Paul's inner voice: clearly the italicized inner voice is no longer sufficient. She `knows' things about Paul - his very thoughts, his relationships with Marijana, even about chance encounters which no real person could possibly know. She encamps herself in Paul's house: Paul cannot get rid of her, and his efforts to do so are feeble. When he does try, she says, `I did not come to you: you came to me'. Paul thinks (pretends to himself?) that she is wanting to write a novel about him and the others, but that she is not sure how the plot will work out.
Though I conceive of her as a ghostly presence, it is the genius of the book that she is presented as (or Paul imagines her as) a very solid presence indeed, with a heart condition and fleshy freckled shoulders. And as such, disconcertingly (if my interpretation is right), she seems to be a presence to Marijana and to Drago also. All the time she tells Paul that his relationship with Marijana and with Drago is an impossible one and rests on a range of misconceptions that he has both about them and about himself.
But if most (though not all) of the rest of the book is an interior dialogue and a kind of auto-psychotherapy (there is a sly allusion to Freud five pages from the end), it is a sophisticated and probing one, in which Paul's views of himself are ruthlessly, subtly, sometimes cruelly, exhaustively and exhaustingly challenged, with some superb and revealing images. One would not go to a therapist if one did not already feel damaged in mind as well as in body. That does not mean that one does not put up a strong defence against what the therapist suggests. So it is with Paul's resistance against what Elizabeth, his inner self, tells him. By the bleak end I think he has learnt a lot about himself; he has come to terms with the fact that he has been harbouring impossible hopes; he knows now that he cannot have life on his terms; he has to live with being the sort of person he is: crippled, lonely and slow like a tortoise carrying the carapace of his essential character.