Friday, November 04, 2005

Slow Man by Coetzee

Coetzee is on my short list of novelists to be read whenever they have a new novel that comes out. Others on this list include:

Wendell Berry
William Gibson
Louise Erdrich

There are probably others, but these four are way up there. I make no argument for the others that they are the "best" writers out there. I find them compelling for different reasons. Gibson because I love cyberpunk but need to limit how much I read. Berry because is local agrarian philosophy and evocation of a world I'd love to inhabit, Erdrich because her writing is beautiful and just different enough to push.

But Coetzee keeps going more and more out there, and I'm traveling with him. He's the only author I know of who seems to believe that literature is not salvific. Elizabeth Costello makes an appearance half-way through this novel, and won't go away, and this is exactly what is needed.

I need to find some folks to discuss this one with. It helps in reading this novel to go back and read Elizabeth Costello first, btw. And for those new to Coetzee, I recommend starting with Disgrace or one of his earlier works.


  1. All I've read was Life and Times of Michael K. I should pick him up again.

  2. I've never read Coetzee, but on the strength of your recommendation I'll give him a shot. I happen to share with you a fascination with Wendell Berry (whose Jayber Crow remains one of the two or three novels that have affected me the most) and Louise Erdrich (whose every book I buy -- although I almost always really enjoy them -- mostly because she's originally from North Dakota!).

    I wonder, to push back at you, whether you know Robertson Davies and Reynolds Price? They, too, are remarkable artists -- though completely different in tone, subject, approach to the world. Price "sounds" in my head like Berry (I often "hear" the narration in the timbre and pitch of the narrator from The Walton's). Davies, however, is his own voice -- cultivated, wry, sort of British (he was Canadian and didn't really have a British accent, but he had a kind of pompous, clipped tone that was endearing).

    With the similarities in taste, we'll have to get together -- perhaps meet at Louise Erdrich's bookstore here in Minneapolis -- and compare notes over tea or beer or ... .


  3. I have read neither Davies or Price, but will take the recommendations gladly, given you already have the "correct" tastes in literature.

    But before I pick either of them up, what do you recommend as the starter volume for each?

  4. Robertson Davies took me a long time to "get into." I just couldn't get past the first five pages, even though two of my closest friends and intellectual sympaticos were really high on him. And then something clicked, and I am hooked forever. I think my entre was Rebel Angels, which is in the Cornish Trilogy. (Davies tended to write interconnected books, although he didn't necessarily intend trilogies.) Angels can be hard to find outside the trilogy, but the trilogy is well worth reading. Then go to the Deptford Trilogy. (Incidentally, Davies doesn't seem to have been a particularly "religious" man -- very erudite, though, in theological things. As a result, theology -- along with the whole of Western learning, I think -- figures prominently in the books.)

    Reynolds Price has a kind of Wendell Berry voice, though he deals with people in very different ways. I found A Promise of Rest a profoundly moving novel about the sort-of-reconciliation of a father and son around the son's dying of AIDS. (Price deals with his own homosexuality vicariously through his books -- and that makes a kind of detective nosiness fun.) Promise is a part of the Mayfield Trilogy -- I guess I like my books in threes. (Avoid any of his work on Jesus or the Gospels: He is not especially orthodox in his Christian-related work.)

    I think you'll find good sermon material in both these authors, too.

    Bon chance! (I don't know "good reading" in language: ?? Guten lesen.)


  5. Great blog! I'll be adding you to my blogroll, fellow Lutheran.

  6. Hey, congrats on fatherhood! I'm waiting for the post. But please, take all the time in the world -- lord knows I have.