Bookreview: 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.
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