Coetzee continues the allegorical musings he began in The Childhood of Jesus with this sequel, which is equally elliptical, sparse, and vexing.
Davíd is now 6, going on 7, and preternaturally precocious. He asks “why” questions that his usually imperturbable father-figure, Simón, finds profound but unanswerable—and Davíd seems to be making little attempt to comprehend Simón’s measured responses. Davíd’s mother, Inés, the object of Simón and Davíd’s quest in Coetzee’s previous novel, is preoccupied with Davíd’s education, for the three of them have run away from Novilla (in the unnamed country they inhabit) and fled to Estrella, where they hope to find a new life. Eventually Simón and Inés enroll Davíd in an academy of dance, where he comes under the mystical sway of instructor Ana Magdalena Arroyo, who believes dancing is connected to numbers in the stars. Meanwhile, Ana Magdalena is “worshiped” by the creepy Dmitri, an attendant at a local museum. All of this is vaguely symbolic, vaguely irritating, and, unfortunately, only vaguely interesting. Coetzee’s characters seem a bit bloodless and unreal, as though they’re floating through a dream world in a parallel universe only tenuously connected to ours. Although Coetzee deals in big themes (repentance, guilt, shame, lust), these qualities remain curiously abstract rather than attached to flesh-and-blood characters—perhaps appropriate in such an opaquely allegorical work. Coetzee is a master of the laconic style here, but there’s a quirkiness in his writing (for example, the repetition of “He, Simón...” ad infinitum) that the reader might ultimately find irksome.
A novel only for those who want to update their reading of the Nobel Prize–winning Coetzee.