Summertime

by J.M. Coetzee | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 1846553180 Global Overview for this book
Registered by quinnsmom of Hobe Sound, Florida USA on 9/9/2009
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by quinnsmom from Hobe Sound, Florida USA on Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The premise of Summertime is that award-winning writer John Coetzee is dead, and someone named Vincent is writing a book about his life in the 1970s. Vincent has decided to interview several women purportedly close to Coetzee, wanting to know what he was like, if there were any sordid details to be had, etc. etc. The book, he says, will be written in the women's own words and they will have the final say in what he actually publishes. But this is not the case; for example, we know that the John Coetzee's cousin Margot's story has been embellished because Vincent lets us know that at the beginning. He makes additions and omissions, going with what he thinks the public wants to know about the subject of his biography. In reality, of course, Vincent is really only an invented character in a novel, interviewing other invented characters in a novel, so what we're really looking at here is Coetzee telling a story, ostensibly about himself, through several fictional intermediaries. And considering that in the book John Coetzee is dead, well, you certainly don't know which details are true and which are not. He is presented as being a rather cold fish, hopeless with women, misunderstood, a failure, and someone with his head in the past. And then there is his gloomy outlook on life -- dark enough that he actually spent some writing a list of 'Ways of Doing Away with Oneself'. With this background, truly, it seems that all Coetzee has left with which to redeem himself and his life is his writing. But it's the writing itself that is not discussed in Vincent's book in any great detail, even though Coetzee is the recipient of a Nobel Prize for Literature.

It seems to me (and I'm not a professional critic, just a reader) that the nature of truth is often elusive and more importantly, it's often subjective, especially in the case of a biography. If there's any real way to know the truth about Coetzee, it's through his writing and everything else is really secondary. Writers of his caliber should be remembered for their art rather than for any of their foibles or follies, and not through the eyes of others who quite possibly really didn't understand them. Since we don't know where the truth ends and begins in this book, it's the real Coetzee's overall talent and his art that we have to come back to in the long run.

Summertime is a wonderful book that will leave you thinking about it long after you've put it down. I can most highly recommend it as a very well-written and thought provoking novel.

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