18 January, 2021

The Novel's Foe, In A Levantine Light

Three characters in search of life reject a dry, utopian placidity, as the Gospels wink, and interbreed with allegory and realism. A form-defying affirmation by Coetzee.

AFP (From Outlook 06 May 2013)
The Novel's Foe, In A Levantine Light

Most novelists tend to mine the seam of one genre or mode for the duration of their literary careers but it is necessary, and fruitful, to sift J.M. Coetzee’s fiction oeuvre into separate categories: the realism of The Life and Times of Michael K and Disgrace; the autobiographical fiction of Boyhood, Youth and Summertime; the fable of Waiting for the Barbarians; the philosophical novels Elizabeth Costello and Slow Man. His latest novel, The Childhood of Jesus, situates itself, teasingly, between fable and the philosophical novel, and yet the title alone applies a destabilising torsion to that positioning: it directly sets up the expectation that you’re going to get Coetzee’s imagining of Jesus’s childhood, notoriously missing from all four Gospels, and then proceeds to deceive that assumption. Or not exactly deceive; the upper partials consist of echoes and witty transpositions of themes, phrases, images and ideas from the Gospels but the moment you strain to make more of them, or pin them down...



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