Dare we suggest that Coetzee is actually a better critical essayist than a novelist? This trenchant, rewarding volume...

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.

Gathered here are 16 book reviews, four summary “introductions” to new translations or editions of major writers’ works and a single celebration of a “classic” film (“Arthur Miller, The Misfits”), which appeared in the anthology Writers at the Movies. Coetzee’s great strength is his sure sense of form—notably displayed in a meticulous deconstruction of Philip Roth’s “dystopian” alternate-history novel The Plot Against America and a stringent explication of enfolded levels of irony and self-deception in Coetzee’s countrywoman Nadine Gordimer’s subtle political novel The Pickup. He also does his homework, assiduously. A wealth of painstakingly absorbed historical and biographical information enriches his dissections of scholar-critic Walter Benjamin’s “the Arcades Project” (an encyclopedic analysis of Parisian social life “under capitalism”); Günter Grass’s challenging historical novel Crabwalk (based on a maritime disaster which has spawned numerous conflicting treatments of its details and significance); and the recently rediscovered fiction of 20th-century Hungarian author Sándor Márai, both a bold critic of fascism and a haughty apologist for an embattled aristocracy. Elsewhere, Coetzee pays due (if predictable) tribute to consensus European masters (Robert Musil, Paul Celan, Italo Svevo) and their less celebrated peers (Bruno Schulz, Joseph Roth, Hugo Claus), fellow Nobelists (Faulkner, Bellow, Naipaul), the underrated (Swiss miniaturist Robert Walser) and the unclassifiable (eclectic memoirist W.G. Sebald). Even middling essays on Whitman, Beckett and Graham Greene are redeemed by startlingly precise insights (e.g., that Greene’s “entertainment” Brighton Rock is energized by distinctions drawn between Good and Evil and Right and Wrong).

Dare we suggest that Coetzee is actually a better critical essayist than a novelist? This trenchant, rewarding volume suggests it just may be so.

Pub Date: July 23, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-670-03865-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2007



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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