16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Elizabeth Costello (Hardcover)
I am an admirer of JM Coetzee, and I started ‘Elizabeth Costello’ with anticipation. I finished it in disappointment.
This book is (as the author tells us) a re-working of previous material, in particular ‘The Lives of Animals’. It deals with several discrete issues, for example the conflict between the humanities and religion in Africa, the purpose of the novel in Africa, the nature of evil and whether a book that describes evil in detail is obscene, and, its main topic, whether we should eat animals or not. On all of these issues Coetzee has much of great interest to say, but the issues are probably better dealt with in the essay form.
In order, however, to treat all these topics in one novel, Coetzee has devised a framework which enables Elizabeth Costello to initiate discussion of them, in sequence. The topics do not all belong together in one book without this framework, and the framework is clumsy and contrived. The conversations, or lectures in two cases, in which the ideas are set forth, are all in one uniform voice, giving the characters no differentiation by way of their speech. I was reminded of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ where the religious and moral arguments are presented by two characters debating eath other in the same voice.
This book is a polemic on issues dear to the author, masquerading as a novel. I have as much interest as any reader in the discussion of ideas, but I found the stage machinery creaky and the dialogue stilted. The non-polemic chapter at the end, where Elizabeth Costello awaits entry into a version of heaven, is beautifully and imaginatively written. But the earlier part of the book required an effort to finish: I was bored with it.
In the same order from Amazon I received ‘The Full Cupboard of Life’, the latest of the novels about Precious Ramotswe of the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Apart from being enjoyable to read (which any novel surely ought to be) it dealt with big human issues (honesty, courage, and gender relationships) in a subtle but literary manner. Just as Coetzee has done in ‘Disgrace’.