Tuesday, February 22, 2005

J.M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello

I had already read a couple of the chapters of Elizabeth Costello about two years ago in a slim volume, the Lives of Animals. Most of the chapters in this book are re-printed from a variety of other sources, including literary journals and conference publications.

It was interesting re-reading these disconcerting lectures on vegetarianism. What are you supposed to think at the end of these things, anyway? That's what I think after every chapter in Coetzee's book.

I was especially pleased to see that Coetzee develops this narrative thread further with his chapter, The Problem of Evil. Costello compares the slaughter of animals to the Holocaust, and is called an anti-Semite by some. She is then later invited to give a lecture on the problem of evil at a conference in the Netherlands. One puzzling lecture thus begets another one.

Better still, that chapter stands, like Job, as an example of what it means to talk about evil and try and do theodicy. Hairy business, that, even for a philosopher, more so for a Christian, well nigh impossible for a novelist. What am I saying?

The chapter on the pearly gates, I'm not sure that's Coetzee at his best, but it is certainly one way to talk about purgatory.

And what is up with the last postscript/epistle? Anyone else read this book and understand what it is doing there?

Also, the chapter on Elizabeth visiting her sister the nun in Africa and the two arguing over Christianity/Hellenism is worth the price of the book, and should be discussed by faculties of Christian colleges the world over.

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