Bookreview: Slow Man

by Hugh

Slow Man

Book by J. M. Coetzee

J. M. Coetzee writes the way writing ought to be written. He is spare and economical, and his writing has a moral force for my money unequalled in contemporary writing in English. Slow Man is something of a departure for the usual realist Coetzee, something of a metaphysical mind-bender. Paul Rayment is a 60-year-old who suffers, in the first scene of the book, a bicycle accident, which results in the amputation of his leg; and he begins to fall in love with his private nurse, the hard-headed Croatian Marijana. Eventually novelist Elizabeth Costello (a character in Coetzee’s previous novel of the same name) appears in Paul’s life somewhat mysteriously: either Costello wishes to write a novel, with Paul as the basis for a character in the book; or Paul is in fact a figment of Costello’s literary imagination. In either case, the two don’t get along well: Paul upset at the intrusion of Costello into his life; Costello annoyed by Paul’s unsuitability (cautious, reserved, resigned) as the hero of a novel.

As always, Coetzee writes with a moral force, and he packs an enormous amount of weight into his deceptively simple writing. Paul and Elizabeth Costello struggle primarily with mortality, age, and the elusiveness of love; the indifference beauty has for the ugly.

This was a looser novel than most of Coetzees works, not quite the smooth offering of books like Disgrace and Foe. And he’s left his usual territory – South Africa – for Australia, where the questions are of a more intimate and personal nature, rather than the heavy weight of moral history that Coetzee struggles with in other novels.

My rating: 3.5 stars
***1/2

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