a small group of wanderers, adrift in an uncharted universe


I don’t read J.M. Coetzee for pleasure. To be fair, I’m not sure anyone does. The 2003 Nobel laureate writes from his head more than his heart, framing novels that are philosophical and austere, books that break down the world in highly rational ways. Over the course of his career, he’s been compared to Beckett and Kafka, although despite the occasional nod in their direction — the title character of his 1983 novel “The Life and Times of Michael K.” functions to some extent as an homage to “The Trial’s” Josef K. — he lacks their appreciation of humor, of life as essentially absurd. “We must cultivate, all of us,” Coetzee writes in “Foe” (a 1986 recasting, of sorts, of “Robinson Crusoe”), “a certain ignorance, a certain blindness, or society will not be tolerable.” Here we see the fundamental tension of his writing: to make sense of ourselves in a universe where the private and the public narrative often are in conflict, where history betrays us in all sorts of ways. Coetzee’s new novel “The Childhood of Jesus” operates very much out of this territory: an allegory that is oddly concrete.

more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.