Books by J.M. Coetzee

LATE ESSAYS by J.M. Coetzee
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: Jan. 2, 2018

"Thought-provoking essays that offer more than mere opinion, as the author plumbs the writers' philosophical and psychological depths."
Nobel and Booker Prize winner Coetzee (The Schooldays of Jesus, 2017, etc.) offers another collection of reflective and erudite essays on a variety of poets and novelists. Read full book review >
THE SCHOOLDAYS OF JESUS by J.M. Coetzee
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Feb. 21, 2017

"A novel only for those who want to update their reading of the Nobel Prize-winning Coetzee."
Coetzee continues the allegorical musings he began in The Childhood of Jesus with this sequel, which is equally elliptical, sparse, and vexing. Read full book review >
THE GOOD STORY by J.M. Coetzee
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Sept. 29, 2015

"Caveat lector: the authors, both intellectual heavyweights, focus much more on psychology—and group psychology, where Coetzee keeps pushing the discussion—than on literature."
A discussion between the Nobel Prize-winning novelist and a clinical psychologist on the narratives that their work shares. Read full book review >
THE EXPEDITION TO THE BAOBAB TREE by Wilma Stockenström
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 15, 2014

"A challenging, compelling work for readers who are willing to give it the concentration it demands."
An early-1980s South African novel about a female slave living in a tree receives American publication three decades after it was written. Read full book review >
THE CHILDHOOD OF JESUS by J.M. Coetzee
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 3, 2013

"This is an unconventional novel indeed, with inscrutable characters wandering through a bleak and tenebrous world."
Nobel Prize winner Coetzee delivers a deliberately paced and enigmatic novel about a strange child and his surrogate mother and father. Read full book review >
HERE AND NOW by Paul Auster
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: March 11, 2013

"Amiable and revealing missives from two remarkable minds."
A genial, often riveting exchange of letters between American novelist Auster (Winter Journal, 2010, etc.) and the South African (now an Australian citizen) Nobel laureate Coetzee (Scenes from Provincial Life, 2012, etc.). Read full book review >
SUMMERTIME by J.M. Coetzee
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Dec. 28, 2009

" The real Coetzee's austere integrity and terse candor make this the best yet of his ongoing self-interrogations. "
Defiantly inconclusive some-kind-of-fiction from Booker- and Nobel Prize-winning Coetzee (Diary of a Bad Year, 2007, etc.). Read full book review >
DIARY OF A BAD YEAR by J.M. Coetzee
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Jan. 1, 2008

"There's something wrong with a novel in which a twisted, exploitative sexual relationship is far less interesting than are dozens of pages of discursive commentary. But that's the new, improved Coetzee for you. Maybe we should blame the Swedish Academy."
The 2003 Nobel winner's latest (Inner Workings: 2000-2005, 2007, etc.) is another drama shaped as intellectual argument, unhappily akin to its immediate predecessors Elizabeth Costello (2003) and (the somewhat livelier) Slow Man (2005). Read full book review >
INNER WORKINGS by J.M. Coetzee
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: July 23, 2007

"Dare we suggest that Coetzee is actually a better critical essayist than a novelist? This trenchant, rewarding volume suggests it just may be so."
Issues of political and moral choice and commitment and of literary theory and practice are considered in the South African Nobel laureate's fourth collection of criticism. Read full book review >
SLOW MAN by J.M. Coetzee
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 26, 2005

"Where is the author of Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace, now that we need him most?"
The 2003 Nobel laureate's tenth novel reintroduces wisdom-dispensing Australian novelist Elizabeth Costello, first sighted in Coetzee's lecture collection The Lives of Animals (1999). Read full book review >
ELIZABETH COSTELLO by J.M. Coetzee
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 20, 2003

"As argument, literate, impassioned, and disturbing; as fiction, overemphatic and often dull. Perhaps only for Coetzee's most ardent admirers."
Multiple Booker winner Coetzee (Disgrace, 2000, etc.) dramatizes—just barely—a celebrated Australian author's considerations of "the humanities" as embodied in moral action. Read full book review >
YOUTH by J.M. Coetzee
NONFICTION
Released: July 8, 2002

"A fine portrait of the artist as a young drudge."
Continuing the third-person narrative begun in Boyhood (1997), noted novelist Coetzee (Disgrace, 1999, etc.) pens another morose, yearning, revealing memoir. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Aug. 27, 2001

"Deeply intelligent, provocative, and enjoyable literary investigations."
A striking collection of 26 literary essays, many taken from The New York Review of Books, that amply display Coetzee's freethinking erudition and go-your-own-way intellectual honesty. Read full book review >
THE LIVES OF ANIMALS by J.M. Coetzee
NONFICTION
Released: April 1, 1999

Fluent, challenging lectures on the ethics that shape the human-animal relationship, from South African novelist and essayist Coetzee (The Master of Petersburg, 1994, etc.). Princeton's Tanner Lectures are usually philosophical essays exploring human values. Here Coetzee subverts that formula by shaping his talks into fictional lectures given by an elderly novelist, Elizabeth Costello, on "an enterprise of degradation, cruelty, and killing which rivals anything that the Third Reich was capable of": our treatment of animals. It is now an old and troubling notion, this analogy between the death camps and the meat business, but it is compelling for Costello: she is troubled by our willed ignorance of the past and present existence of slaughterhouses, the sickness of soul that denies any creature the sensation of being alive, our poverty of sympathetic imagination. "The horror is that the killers refused to think themselves into the place of their victims . . . They do not say ‘How would it be if I were burning?' . . . In other words, they closed their hearts." Coetzee is obviously aware of the potential noxiousness of this terrain (the poet Abraham Stern scorns Costello's use of the analogy: "You misunderstand the nature of likenesses; I would even say you misunderstand willfully, to the point of blasphemy"), and he uses it with provocative intent. Self-evident, though, is our collective failure of nerve (Thomas Aquinas through Descartes and Kant to today) to unleash "the extent to which we can think ourselves into the being of another." Perhaps, Coetzee implies, rational thought, lagging behind sympathy, will follow its lead if powerful fictions and images can trigger our fellow feelings. Coetzee takes no prisoners; there is always suffering on the road to salvation. That includes Costello's painful relationship with her son, a terrain so emotionally arid it makes the skin crawl. Included are four commentaries—by literary theorist Marjorie Garber, philosopher Peter Singer, religious scholar Wendy Doniger, and primatologist Barbara Smuts—that add touchwood, and a measure of windiness, to Coetzee's ethical tinderbox. Read full book review >
BOYHOOD by J.M. Coetzee
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

A short and unsettling, deftly realized memoir of the celebrated South African writer's childhood in the hinterlands. South African memoirs, whether written by blacks or whites, tend to have a thread of sameness woven through: a sense of time and landscape as forces that irrevocably shape the soul. Coetzee (The Master of Petersburg, 1994, etc.), is no exception. Writing at the remove of the third person, he looks back at his youth in the distant dorp of Worcester, recounting how he was formed by his surroundings. This is not an eventful memoir—it's strength comes, instead, from Coetzee's nuanced, unblinking perceptions. His childhood was not unhappy in the conventional sense; the sadness and tragedies were mainly of the ordinary kind, and in his masterful depiction of them, that's what makes them so shattering. All too clearly, we see his weak, hapless father and his mother who is slowly being pushed to the side of her life—a bad marriage, abandoned career, a son whom she loves absolutely but who is too stubborn and embarrassed to reciprocate. There is the uncalibrated cruelty of children, the heedlessness of adults, Coetzee's pervading sense of difference (magnified by his Afrikaans parents' decision to raise him as English-speaking): "Nothing he experiences in Worcester, at home or at school, leads him to think that childhood is anything but a time of gritting the teeth and enduring." The memoir leaves Coetzee on the cusp of adolescence—at the funeral of an old aunt, where he experiences a small, bittersweet epiphany that seems to herald his becoming a writer. Perhaps Coetzee has removed too much of himself—there is an unsolved distance throughout that keeps this memoir from quite realizing the fullness of its potential. Still, this is a powerful, disillusioned portrait of childhood and how, like South Africa, it encompasses both prelapsarian innocence and unconscionable evil. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: April 1, 1996

These closely argued essays on censorship's insidious subtleties make for dense but rewarding reading. As a noted South African writer under apartheid, Coetzee (The Master of Petersburg, 1994, etc.) long suffered the stifling shadow of the censor. Indeed, almost half of the essays in this collection concern South Africa's particular brand of censorship and how it was leveled at fellow writers such as Andre Brink and Breyten Breytenbach. Broadening his examination, Coetzee also looks at Solzhenitsyn's struggles with the Soviet state, undercuts Catherine MacKinnon's dogmatic anti-pornography stance, deconstructs D.H. Lawrence's belief in breaking taboos, and closely reads the works of several writers operating under censorship conditions. Those looking for simple, ringing denunciations of censorship's evils will be disappointed. Coetzee explicitly rejects such noble tritenesses. Instead, drawing on the works of modern theorists such as Lacan, Foucault, and Girard, he pursues censorship's deeper, more fickle meanings and unmeanings. In his essay on the South African Publications Appeal Board, for example, he reveals the unreasoning paranoia that governs even the most "enlightened" censorship. In other words, censorship can never be a wholly rational act. Almost every page is thick with such provocative insights and ideas, but Coetzee does not always do his arguments justice. Unlike his lucid, elegant fictions, here he is often unnecessarily opaque and obscure. He has the South African intellectual's fatal fondness for academic jargon (though not the usual accompanying cant), and his logic occasionally short-circuits. But his erudition and intelligence remain truly formidable throughout. And as Coetzee's own experience has shown, censorship ultimately fights a losing battle: "The artist, if he is patient enough and persistent enough, always wins, or at least emerges on the winning side." Read full book review >
THE MASTER OF PETERSBURG by J.M. Coetzee
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 1, 1994

Depending on how readers take to literary conceits, Coetzee's new novel will be received as either a flash of fierce lightning or a rumble of unthreatening thunder. Coetzee (Age of Iron, 1990, etc.) nimbly plucks his premise from a fact — usually treated as incidental — of Fyodor Dostoevsky's life. The Russian novelist had a wastrel stepson, Pavel Alexandrovich Isaev, whom Coetzee imagines died in 1869 (he didn't). Suffering an affliction beyond grief, Fyodor travels to St. Petersburg and takes the room his son last occupied. It's in the home of the dour Anna Sergeyevna Kolenkina, the mother of quick-tongued Matryona. His intention is to reconcile himself to his loss by getting to the bottom of it. What he doesn't count on is learning that what he'd been told was a suicide may have been a murder. Among Pavel's papers, which are in the hands of officials, is a list of people to be assassinated. Pavel was possibly marked for death as part of People's Vengeance, a revolutionary group headed by the opportunistic Sergei Gennadevich Nechaev. As various Dostoevskian themes wink from the lines (the ruthlessness of oppressors, father-son rivalry, the nature of death, madness), the disoriented Fyodor finds himself enamored of Anna as well as caught in Sergei's subversive activities. Eventually, Fyodor is entangled in additional deaths — one on each side of the law — and as the novel reaches its denouement, he suffers a major disillusionment. Handed his stepson's papers, he learns that he loomed as a heavy in the boy's life. He also discovers that Pavel had scribbled crude short stories that could be remade into works of Dostoevskian art. What Coetzee is getting at is not news: Writers mine material from the complexities of their lives and, if necessary, step on toes, "sell everyone," endure "a life without honor." Boldly presumptuous, yet somehow precious. Read full book review >
AGE OF IRON by J.M. Coetzee
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 28, 1990

Coetzee (Waiting for the Barbarians, 1982; Life and Times of Michael K, 1984) has never before written so undeliberate and passionate a novel as this, an agonizing valediction by an old woman—a South African classics teacher, dying of cancer—in the form of a letter to her daughter in America. Mrs. Curren accepts her doctor's report of terminal disease with resignation, returning to her house only to fined a vagrant sleeping in the yard, an unwashed isolato named (she eventually finds out) Vercueil whom she is too weak to turn out. Vercueil is soon joined by others, in particular the teen-age son of her black housekeeper Florence. The son, Bheki, is wanted by the Security Forces—and Bheki's eventual violent murder, and Vercueil's wraithlike, eternal presence, become the poles of emotion for Mrs. Curren's dwindling days. After the police-murder, she even vows to immolate herself in public, so horrified and depressed is she by the barbarism—and what does she have to lose? She cannot do it, ultimately—and the book steadily takes on the nature of a testament to the dinginess of life and the life-denying nature of South African reality. Coetzee overwrites as the book goes on; Mrs. Curren's speeches grow more philosophical and eloquent, with Vercueil's silences a theatrical device. But overall this is truly a moving, harrowing recitative—the work of a masterly writer. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: April 13, 1988

South African novelist Coetzee (Waiting for the Barbarians, 1982; Life & Times of Michael K, 1984) is a professor as well at the University of Cape Town—and this collection of seven essays about writings by whites in South Africa has a fashionable structuralist feel to it. To wit: though Coetzee is unable to honestly recommend (or even tempt the reader's interest) with the writers he deals with—C.M. van den Heever, Pauline Smith, Olive Schreiner, Alan Paton, Sarah Gertrude Millin—the forms and subjects and procedures they use are assumed to be (and are in fact) far more telling than any particular work. Coetzee will home in on the interpretations South African writers (mostly precontemporary) have given certain concepts—the sublime, the picturesque, idleness, the farm, blood—and find each time another wrinkle in the fabric of racist empowerment this culture has developed. Coetzee is such a good structuralist, in fact, that the quotations from the writers he's writing about seem almost beside the point, mere buttresses. What is inescapable, however, is a reader's conclusion that South African writing's golden age is not then but now—as it worries the bone of previous barbarisms of attitude, the cultural determinism, in the in-every-way pale tradition Coetzee details. Read full book review >
FOE by J.M. Coetzee
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Feb. 1, 1986

Sometimes maddeningly, sometimes brilliantly elusive, Coetzee's new novel gives the Robinson Crusoe story a deconstructionist turn, adding new characters and including the vexed reactions and wisdoms of the original's author himself, Defoe (the foe—upon whom a story breaks not always willingly). Susan Barton is a young widow shipwrecked and thrown to safety on the very island where Crusoe and his man Friday eke out their existence. Crusoe by now is a sort of solitary burgher, unwilling to leave; and Friday. . .no one really knows about Friday, since his tongue has been cut out and he cannot tell anyone anything. Since South African Coetzee has used allegorical political material before, it's allowable to see Friday's cut-out tongue as social emblem for black South Africans; but then, when Susan, Crusoe, and Friday actually are rescued from the island (Crusoe dies mid-journey but Barton and Friday return to England), this impression lessens. What increases is the unstable relation between muse and creator—Susan who was there and Defoe who wasn't, yet who must imaginatively re-create what Susan may also not have known as well as what she did. Sadly, Coetzee muddies this elegantly simple template for art vs. experience by a late professorial brief (delivered by Foe) for writing-qua-itself—a bit of Gallic fashionableness that has the effect of all but shattering the fragile dramatic spell drawn up till then. Often piquant—but also some very, very thin reeds on which to build. Read full book review >