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Summertime Paperback – 2 Sep 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (2 Sept. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099540541
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099540540
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 153,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Wonderful stuff. But then, Coetzee is wonderful: edgy, black, remorselessly human, witty, and often outright funny... Summertime is offbeat and deliberate, elusive and truthful" (Irish Times)

"The cumulative effect of Coetzee's unblinking honesty and his never-wavering seriousness is an understanding of the creation of a great writer" (Sunday Telegraph)

"A subtle, allusive meditation: an intriguing map of a weak character's constricted heart struggling against the undertow of suspicion within South Africa's claustrophobic, unpoetic, overtly macho society" (Financial Times)

"A poignant, cubistic portrait...It is not essential, however, that one know anything of Boyhood, Youth, or his other works to appreciate its rich offerings as an imaginatively distorted and distorting portrait of the artist as outsider" (TLS)

"Compelling, funny, moving and full of life" (Observer)

Book Description

A rich, funny, and deeply affecting autobiographical new novel from one of the world's greatest living writers.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Ostensibly, J.M. Coetzee's Summertime is a third instalment of autobiography, succeeding Boyhood (1998) and Youth (2002) (both of which, incidentally, are excellent). But this description belies the book's true nature in two ways. First, Summertime is so far from being a conventional autobiography it's essentially a work of fiction. Second, it's a terrific book in its own right, and can be enjoyed without any prior knowledge of its forerunners.

The book begins in a style resembling Boyhood and Youth. Brief scenes from the life of Coetzee, now a thirtysomething in 1970s apartheid South Africa, are narrated in crisp third-person prose. Coetzee, we learn, is a down-and-out, unemployed and living with his elderly father, disgusted by apartheid but stuck in a rut of inaction verging on paralysis. But each scene stops abruptly, clearly unfinished, and after 15 pages the narrative stops altogether. What's going on? Here emerges the book's central conceit: Coetzee has died, leaving behind notebooks of assorted scraps. A would-be biographer, seeking to reconstruct "the story" of Coetzee's life, interviews a number of people who knew Coetzee at that time, and transcripts of these (fictional) interviews occupy most of the book's remainder.

The interviewees give us little vignettes in which Coetzee is a ghostly figure, a barely-there anonynimity, content to be manipulated and exploited by stronger characters: a man defined by his fleeting and unsatisfying connections to others. He is a supporting character.
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Format: Hardcover
Book Review

Summertime by J M Coetzee

Summertime (2009) is the third of South African John Coetzee's fictionalised autobiographies following Boyhood (1997) and youth (2002). The inspired novel centres around a young English biographer who is working on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee, focusing on the years 1972-1977 when Coetzee was in his thirties.
Following the premature end to his six years in America, John returned to South Africa to live in the outskirts of Cape Town with his widowed father. This period is emphasised by the biographer as an era when Coetzee was `finding his feet as a writer'.
Never having met Coetzee, he embarks on an exciting journey of interviewing a number of characters who were physically and emotionally involved with him.

The Coetzee that we are introduced to, through a series of interviews, is lonely and uncomfortable with almost every aspect of his life. Further on in the novel, a more humuorous side is developed as Coetzee becomes sexually involved with a number of female characters. He takes up dancing in attempt to woo a woman, only to make a fool of himself. Coetzee continues to place himself in awkward situations throughout the novel creating an ongoing theme of comedy for the reader to enjoy.

Within the novel, he is regarded with mistrust by his family as he engages in manual labour in penitence for his country's long history of `making other people do our work for us as we sit in the shade and watch'. His love for the Coetzee family estate in the Karoo remains as passionate as ever it was in Boyhood but everywhere else he is lost. South Africa has become a `loud angry place'.
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Format: Paperback
Summertime was shortlisted for the 2009 Booker Prize, but didn't win. I'm not surprised because it is a mostly unsatisfactory read. Not a novel, more like notes for one. Yet it is harrowingly readable, melancholy, puzzling, a story of a man who feels he has failed at life. It consists of several interviews ostensibly conducted by an unnamed researcher, who has gained access to a number of people who knew his subject, John Coetzee, in his early writing life in the 1970s. These are Julia, a married woman he had an affair with, Margot, his cousin, Adriana, a woman he was attracted to who refused all his approaches, Martin, a man who got the job he had been interviewed for and who subsequently became a friend for a short while, and Sophie, a fellow teacher at his university, with whom he also had a short affair.

John Coetzee (in this incarnation at least) never married. Nor is he deceased in real life. The interviewer is writing an unathorised biography. Who is John Coetzee? Many of the people who discuss him with the interviewer have found him difficult to get close to. There are several undated fragments rounding off the account of his life, and these mainly concentrate on his relationship with his father with whom he has had a somewhat attenuated and uneasy relationship. All of this is utterly fascinating, and none of it comes to a firm conclusion.

This book teases at the truth behind fact, mentioning some of his real life books, such as the Booker winner, 'Disgrace' and the early book 'Boyhood'. But is it a tease, or is it a faithful recounting of a life? If so, it is a life so far, and no further. His sexual life has been varied, but also rather arid, by this account. He does not seem to have had many passions.
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