J.M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year

William Deresiewicz in the Nation:

At the top of the page, an argument is being pursued. It is a political argument; right now, it is taking up the rightward drift in Western politics since 9/11. “Next week there will be federal elections in Canada,” the voice is saying, “and the Conservatives are tipped to win.” In the middle of the page, the author of this argument is writing a letter to his secretary. Not his secretary, exactly–the neighbor he has coaxed into typing his notes. She is young, married, half-Filipina and crushingly sexy, the kind of woman who gives men ideas they can’t get rid of. He’s paying her three times what the work is worth, but they’ve had an argument, and she has refused to go on. “You have become indispensable to me,” the letter begins. At the bottom of the page, the young woman is reporting a conversation she has had with the man she lives with. He has been tapping into her employer’s computer, but not because he wants to spy on his private thoughts. He’s interested in other things. Like what, she’s asked. “Like his finances,” he says. Her employer is old, and rich. “Like what is going to happen with his assets after he dies.”

We are about halfway through J.M. Coetzee’s eleventh novel, Diary of a Bad Year, and we have gotten used by now to the ways it wants to be read.