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3.5 out of 5 stars
Slow Man
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on 29 April 2008
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.
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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.
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on 2 October 2017
The best book I have read so far. I haven't read many. but this one made me think and it the way Coetzee write is simply sublime.
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on 15 June 2017
So clever; academics are already publishing articles about its deft and disorientating structural features. But so little heart.
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on 23 May 2014
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.
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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.
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VINE VOICEon 15 September 2007
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.
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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.
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on 10 February 2018
A thoroughly post-modern book (I guess). A plot that falls apart. A character who belongs in another book - who actually has her own book! And an ending that ends just as if Coetzee had run out of paper, or ideas.
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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.
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