the childhood of jesus


The Childhood of Jesus achieves Coetzee’s usual trick of being at once austere and voluptuous, eloquent and inscrutable. It sits in your hand like a meteorite or a shard of obsidian. Its relevance to Jesus seems tangential and inexact (but then Joyce didn’t like Ulysses being tethered too tightly to Homer, either). The boy is awkward, passionate, and reluctant to engage with conventions of number and language because he has devised his own ways of thinking. He asks penetrating questions, as children do. He makes up his own version of Don Quixote, like the titular character in Borges’s short story ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’ (Menard, incidentally, deplored ‘those parasitic books that set Christ on a boulevard’). He blithely allows himself to be the epicentre of a series of seismic upheavals in people’s lives, happy in his princely role (as children are). But I don’t quite buy him as the Messiah – even if he is, at times, a very naughty boy. In fact the New Testament character I was most often reminded of was Joseph, a clear avatar for Simón (not that there’s been a Vie de Josèphe to my knowledge). There is also a sense of trouble over the sea, of a coldly indifferent world beyond a small pool of familial warmth and safety, and a constant readiness to flee that evoke the Flight into Egypt as depicted in another like-titled work, Berlioz’s oratorio L’enfance du Christ.

more from Keith Miller at Literary Review here.