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Customer Review

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Something brilliant from nothing, 3 Jan. 2008
This review is from: Life and Times of Michael K (Paperback)
In a society in which a whole group of its citizens is accorded no value, what happens when one of them values himself even less? The answer: he becomes like a double negative; and double negatives become positives. 'The obscurist of the obscure,' as Coetzee puts it,'so obscure as to be a prodigy.'

Coetzee writes with an economy and simple elegance which can be misleading. His prose can seem so plain there is a danger one thinks the story is plain too. In fact he draws with the economy of line of a great artist - and through it, like great artists, he achieves great beauty.

Michael K is a man for whom no one has ever much cared, and who consequently cares nothing for himself. He stumbles through civil war torn South Africa and is kicked about like a stone; not a rough, awkward protesting stone, but like a smooth stone, 'like a pebble that having lain around quietly minding its own business since the dawn of time, is now suddenly picked up and tossed randomly from hand to hand.' And is indestructible.

This is a short book that should be read at a run, not picked up and put down. The narrative may seem meandering. Those who encounter K are so perplexed by him they barely bother with him; and he is never bothered by them. The stone is merely kicked about. The point, for some time, seems obscure.

But then the stone that is K lands in the possession of someone different: of someone good. And now, for the first time, K becomes a disturbance; he creates anxiety, he upsets the status quo. And the moral of the tale reveals itself: sometimes, amidst the banality of institutionalised evil, it requires the extraordinary to make good people see the truth - even if, in this case, what is extraordinary is K's extreme ordinariness.

It is a poignant, painful and powerful book, that could only have been attempted - let alone delivered successfully - by a writer of authority, clarity and total control. But then those are the characteristics of J M Coetzee. He has given us a story about something vital out of the life of a man who is nothing.
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Initial post: 15 Jul 2011 14:59:28 BDT
Eileen Shaw says:
Superb review - thank you.
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