Nobel Prize winner Coetzee delivers a deliberately paced and enigmatic novel about a strange child and his surrogate mother and father.
In a scene reminiscent of Kafka’s The Castle, Coetzee’s narrative opens with the arrival of an old man named Simón and his young traveling companion, David, at a resettlement center where everything is slightly awry and off pitch—there’s no key to the room they’re supposed to go to, for example, the woman in Building C is not ready for their arrival, and there’s no formal mechanism in place to help them get settled. We learn that they’ve been at “the camp” and now hope to start a new life, but owing to some missing paperwork, David has become separated from his mother, so Simón vows to help him reunite with her. All he knows is that he will intuitively recognize her as David’s mother when he sees her. At first, David is more preoccupied with his hunger than with anything else, but then he meets Fidel, a young boy, and his mother, Elena, a violin teacher with whom Simón has occasional casual sex. Meanwhile, Simón has gotten a job unlading boats, demanding work made somewhat lighter by the philosophical discussions he has with Álvaro, his boss. Simon also meets Inés, a woman who he’s certain is David’s mother, and even though there’s much ambiguity about this relationship, she begins to fulfill a motherly role, almost overly so, for she becomes overbearing and bullying.
This is an unconventional novel indeed, with inscrutable characters wandering through a bleak and tenebrous world.