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Engaging little Coetzee
on 27 February 2015
Not unlike his Elizabeth Costello, Diary of a Bad Year sees Coetzee creates a literary doyen shadow puppet, where the celebrated mortal, besides burning the candle on the podium to opine and muse on a slew of contemporary socio-politico-literary themes, balances an interpersonal dilemma: here it is the lecherous old author dreaming up a life-of-sorts with his Filipino neighbour who is freelancing as a manuscript typist for him.
Quite against my expectations, I wasn't much into the non-fictional aspects as I was in Costello as the key refrain, that of an exasperation with creating, writing, expecting and absorbing from fiction is something I don't particularly spend my waking hours despairing over, but I could see for those creating it, a fatigue to inevitably kick in from time to time.
The half-hearted, sometimes opaque, sometimes meandering, sometimes predictable and just sometimes on-the-dot snippets of commentary on the state of the world lacked conviction, which in retrospect, could have been deliberate as they really added to driving home the apathy and the creatively numbed mindspace of the lonely, ageing intellectual writing them. In addition, they added credibility to the parallel monologue from the presumed philistine typist, who almost functions as a reader-surrogate, and is seen privately and in-correspondance humorously castigating her learned employer's view of life and opinions. Coetzee's project, by this self-aware turn gets an endearing modesty. I also did not expect Coetzee to drive these seemingly peripheral characters of the typist and her investment consultant boyfriend to be drawn with such particularity. He offers himself very little space to create their interpersonal landscape, but gets the tone right.
For its reading time, Diary of a Bad Year kept me infinitely engaged, not least by its playful and inventive division of the typed page into three parallel narratives, in a microfiche of life itself: stories and narratives unfolding in parallel and not in a serialised fashion, as most fiction falls prey to. Its experimental and fleeting, but gives one much to ponder while it lays open in front of you.