Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Writer's Right to Privacy

I found J.M. Coetzee’s latest novel, “Summertime” to be very interesting. The reason I use the word interesting is that the premise is so unusual. The story evolves as the rough draft of a biography of the late John Coetzee, a South African writer, written by an Englishman referred to as Mr. Vincent. The “biography” takes the form of five interviews by Mr. Vincent with people who had known Coetzee in the 1970’s when he was living in a suburb of Capetown with his elderly father. Four of the five interviewees were women who had had a “relationship” with John Coetzee. The fifth, Martin, was a colleague from Coetzee’s teaching days.

The interviews are intriguing and often very amusing. The women often describe Coetzee with the most unflattering and demoralizing rhetoric. The stories the interviewees relate of their own lives are often far more interesting than the life of the J.M. Coetzee, before he became a famous writer.

One might ask, “Why would J.M. Coetzee, the novelist, (who is very much alive in 2010) want to write about a J.M. Coetzee who is somewhat similar to himself but who is dead? and why, in such a strange and unflattering way? It seems that this author, who has received many prestigious awards including the Nobel Prize for Literature, wants to make a statement: “Why are people so interested in a man just because he is a famous writer?” But only J.M. Coetzee could present this question to his readers in such a creative and beautifully written form.

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