Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee

Want to be plagued with existential questions? Then this book is for you.

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 233 pages.
Read from September 18 to 25, 2016.

Coetzee truly is a remarkable writer. I don’t even like all of the books I have read by him but I have an intense respect for his talent. Coeztee seems to specialize in creating characters that are borderline unlikeable, yet some how relatable enough that as a reader you feel very invested in them. While I wasn’t enthralled with the story itself, I was intrigued by the content. I haven’t read a piece of philosophy that read so story-like since Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.

“She is no longer sure that people are always improved by what they read. Furthermore, she is not sure that writers who venture into the darker territories of the soul always return unscathed.”

Elizabeth Costello is a world-renowned Australian author who after many years of success is growing tired of the routine. She is old and her life consists of dry lecture halls and stale award ceremonies. She has a son, whose wife cannot stand her stances on animals rights and the ways that she goes about sharing her views. She also has an estranged sister who has devoted herself to God, while she has devoted herself to academia. Known for being articulate and well spoken, Elizabeth begins to lose sense of her self and for the things that she stands for. During one particular speech, Elizabeth becomes the object of scrutiny and further she spirals into questioning and doubt. She questions her contributions and her very being as a writer as well as the other authors she has come to know over the years. How can she continue to keep herself relevant, for her the remainder of her life to make sense and having meaning and for her contributions to mean something to future generations?

If I am honest, this book as novel, does not read well. It comes across more like an essay or a piece of academia. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I imagine that if you have the wrong perception, this book may not be appealing to you. The novel consists of extensive inner monologues as well as the extents of Elizabeth’s speeches. The content is all very insightful but if you are looking for a book to escape in then this book is not for you.

With that, holy fuck. Coeztee sure knows how to pack a lot into such a short book. This man needs to win an award for being fantastically concise. Seriously. He could give a few other writer some much need tips. It’s much hard to write something short and poignant than it is to write a long one.

Overall I would recommend this book for the ponderous philosopher, lovers of fantasic writing, and for those who enjoy taking the time to get lost in thought.

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

4/5 stars.
Read from December 28, 2015 to January 09, 2016.
Paperback, 220 pages.

This is the second novel I’ve read by J.M. Coetzee and this book left me with way too many feels. Mostly rage. But in a good way. This book won the Booker Prize in 1999, despite it’s controversial characters and subject matter. Based on the other reviews that I’ve read on this book it’s left people with a lot of mixed views.

Set in post-apartheid South Africa, Disgrace tells the story of David Lurie, an egotistical Professor of Communication and Romantic Poetry. After being divorced twice, David gives off the impression that he believes that he is some how God’s gift to women, regardless of his age, and lives an emotionless life with regular visits with a prostitute once a week. While he is no longer prominent at the university, he is complacent with his duties and believes himself to be happy.

However, when his regular prostitute will no longer see him, he resorts to seducing a young student which has dire consequences. After a trial with with university, in which he does nothing to deny the seduction, he refuses to make a public apology which results in his termination. Disgraced, in many ways, David goes to live with his estranged daughter in the countryside to escape some of controversy and gossip. Still remaining fairly emotionless, David does not appear to be bothered by his scandal and is looking forward to reconnecting with his daughter.

His daughter, Lucy, is unmarried and living on her own in the country side, a dangerous situation in post-apartheid South Africa. She is fiercely independent and has a passion for rescuing animals, so she is quick to recruit her father’s help. However, a horrifying situation is about to unfold that will upturn both of their lives. David, will come to truly know what disgrace means and will find a measure of understanding for the women he has mistreated.

Let me just say, that David is a despicable human being. Ugh. He is such a pervert. But, as Coetzee is such a fabulous writer, he ensures that as a reader that you feel an appropriate amount of resentment towards David but are still able to see past his flaws to continue reading the story. It was challenging as a woman to read about his “seduction” of one his young female students. David abused his power with her and practically raped her. She didn’t say no, but she definitely didn’t say yes. It was just one of the challenging scenes in this book.

Now I went from being annoyed, to feeling absolute rage after the main incident that affects Lucy and David. I wish I could say more without spoiling it but I just cannot fathom or understand Lucy’s choices in dealing with the situation. I was actually siding with David! While the situation made David a better person in the end, I still couldn’t get over the rage I felt even when the book came to the end.

Now that I’ve read 2 books by Coeztee, I would say that his writing style and approach is definitively made for more of a male audience. Not that he is being inclusive and this is not by any means a complaint because as a woman, it provides a different perspective.

Enjoyable is not a word I would use to describe this book but it was very good. The book makes you feel a spectrum of emotions, most of which are on the angry, sad and frustrated side, but it was hard book to put down. This novel is also a great representation of personal growth as well as a reflection post-apartheid South Africa. I would recommend this book to those that are not too sensitive to misogyny in literature and for those willing to use an open-mind on personal growth in regards to that topic. Again, not that misogyny is something to be endorsed but it is a sad reality in which this author has chosen to reflect on. I believe this book is worthy of its appraised award for addressing a historical time-frame and for discussing a character, that most, would not like and showing the reader that people can change.