Summertime Paperback – 2 Sep 2010
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"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)
A rich, funny, and deeply affecting autobiographical new novel from one of the world's greatest living writers.See all Product description
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SUMMERTIME, anticipated as the continuation to the author's fictionalized autobiographies, or "autofiction", Boyhood: A Memoir and Youth, may not be even that. Vincent, having studied John's diaries and notebooks, travels the world to fill in some gaps and, hopefully, discover new facets of the man's inner emotional being, especially during that decisive time in his subject's life, the mid nineteen seventies. He interviews five individuals - lovers, real or unreciprocated, a close relative and colleagues - some thirty years after the period of interest to him. It is easy to conclude that his interviewees' memories are less than precise after all that time and that each encounter with a 'witness' will shed only some diffuse light on the person under discussion, and more on the interviewee. John Coetzee's own words are added as the opening and the concluding section. While interesting in a broader sense, will they shed more light on the person? It is up to the reader to decide.
With the five interviews that characterize the structure of his "memoir" J.M. Coetzee plays with more than our curiosity to compare John and J.M's personalities and life experiences. Structurally, he varies between an interview setting where the interviewee takes factual liberties when creatively retelling the story of her time in the vicinity of John (Julia), or one where Vincent, the fictional interviewer, retells a creatively rewritten interview with John's cousin Margot, or a more confrontational setting that Vincent encounters with Adriana, the Brazilian dance teacher. Each of these, and to a lesser degree the last two interviews, shed some light on John's intimate life at the time, yet, they are even more engaging for what they say about the social, political and personal environment of the person interviewed. The depiction of John is not very flattering. For example, Julia thought that "... his mental capacities, and specifically his ideational faculties, were overdeveloped, at the cost of his animal self. " His cousin Margot, on the other hand, felt that John was always struggling against the Coetzee inheritance: he was not a "slapgat" a person lacking backbone, choosing the easiest path through life. Adriana, whose had reasons for her hostility towards John summed him up: "He was not a man of substance. Maybe he could write well, maybe had a certain talent for words, I don't know... to my mind a talent for words is not enough if you want to be a great writer. And he was not a great man. He was a little man, an unimportant little man. " Finally, Vincent, while addressing Sophie, the last of the interviewees, expresses a warning to any gullible reader: " "What Coetzee writes there cannot be trusted, not as a factual record - not because he was a liar but because he was a fictioneer. In his letters he is making up a fiction of himself for his correspondents; in his diaries he is doing much the same for his own eyes, or perhaps for posterity,..."
This is exactly what J.M. Coetzee did - creating a fictioneer's account of somebody who may have traits of himself, or, very likely, not so many - and having great fun with entertaining the reader with the stories. His intimate knowledge of the social and political conditions in South Africa, life in Cape Town as well as the remote region of the Karoo shines through and gives the novel an added depth and a reality check. The interviews are exquisitely crafted and complement the multi-faceted portrait of a fictioneer written by an even greater fictioneer. [Friederike Knabe]
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. Indeed passion seems foreign to his nature, except in the account of his pursuing of Adriana, which ended unsuccessfully. Of course, one must remember, this is a book written by Coetzee himself - a man writing about himself, or some version of himself. It is fascinating, bleak, ironic, politically charged, but with the opposite of political passion. He does not reveal so much as pose as himself, but the pose shrinks away from us. Turns us away too. It is all sadness, all withdrawal, but in a form that can only bring curiosity. What is the final truth, is there one? And who is J M Coetzee?
We get an insight into their own lives - the young housewife who has a fling with him to get even with a cheating husband; the cousin living a tough life in the Karroo; the Brazilian mother whose daughter he tutors.
The picture they give of Coetzee is of a melancholy, solitary and gauche character, not outstanding at his teaching work; one is even dismissive of his writing.
The interviews are supplemented by extracts supposedly from Coetzee's own notebooks. There is a gradual build-up, layer on layer, of negative experiences - never loved by Julia; criticized by his favourite cousin for wanting to live apart from his father and for not being married (and soon she forgets his problems altogether when more pressing concerns arise); rejected by Adriana who feels he's stalking her; ex-colleague and lover Sophie says she didn't read all his works ('I lost interest')
By the end when he's living with his sick, elderly father and contemplating methods of suicide, one sees how life has brought him to this.
I didn't ENJOY this book, but it's well written and has an interesting and unique construction.
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