Prose on Coetzee’s Slow Man

Francine Prose in Slate offers a bad review of Cotzee’s writing in his new book Slow Man.

“Here is Coetzee:

The blow catches him from the right, sharp and surprising and painful, like a bolt of electricity, lifting him up off the bicycle. Relax! he tells himself as he flies through the air (flies through the air with the greatest of ease!), and indeed he can feel his limbs go obediently slack. Like a cat he tells himself: roll, then spring to your feet, ready for what comes next. The unusual word limber or limbre is on the horizon too.

There’s nothing wrong with this, I suppose, except that it’s larded with clichés, starting with ‘bolt of electricity’ and continuing on to ‘flies through the air with the greatest of ease.’ The fact that writer and character recognize them as such hardly makes the passage more fun to read.”

I’ll still take a look.  And at the end, she leaves us with this trite but not so correct observation.

“I find myself coming up against the deceptively simple fact that if we are not interested in the language a writer uses, we find it hard to stay interested in the book . . .”

I find myself coming up against the not so deceptive and not so simple belief that style is not exactly just a matter of taste.  I may find a painting or work of art unappealing, but I have little doubt that Timothy Don can change my mind by helping to see it in a new way.  Justification in aesthetic judgment may be more complicated than in moral or scientific judgment.  But certainly it’s not a matter of “I like chocolate” and “you like vanilla”.