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A Childhood on the Edge of History

Charles van Onselen: J.M. Coetzee’s boyhood

5 February 1998
Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 171 pp., £12.99, September 1997, 0 436 20448 7
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... English-speaking South African’ politically irrelevant. Noted largely for their economic success, English-speakers are destined to remain bit players in the unfolding political drama. J.M.Coetzee, a member of a bilingual group (Afrikaans and English-speaking) that squeezed its way into white South African life in the twilight hours of Smuts and the gathering gloom of D.F. Malan and his ...

The End

Angela Carter

18 September 1986
A Land Apart: A South African Reader 
edited by André Brink and J.M. Coetzee.
Faber, 252 pp., £9.95, August 1986, 0 571 13933 7
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Where Sixpence lives 
by Norma Kitson.
Chatto, 352 pp., £9.95, September 1986, 0 7011 3085 7
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... in their different ways witnesses to the haunted tensions, torture and bloodshed of the period of minority rule. The anthology of fiction, A Land Apart, was, say its editors, André Brink and J.M.Coetzee, ‘compiled amid the tumult of the uprisings of 1985’, although the writers they choose to represent had not then had the time to reflect upon that tumult in their work, and almost certainly have ...

The Beloved

Michael Ignatieff

6 February 1997
Giving Offence: Essays on Censorship 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Chicago, 289 pp., $27.50, March 1996, 0 226 11174 1
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... in a Soviet dictionary of foreign words imported into Russian, it wasn’t there. ‘The word censorship was itself censored.’ Censorship is ashamed of itself. It is also ridiculous: a censor, J.M.Coetzee writes, is like a man trying to stop his penis from standing up. To censor is to give proof that one is in the grip of that which one wishes to forbid others desiring. Not even feminist critics of ...

Tables and Chairs

Christopher Tayler: J.M. Coetzee

21 March 2013
J.M. CoetzeeA Life in Writing 
by J.C. Kannemeyer, translated by Michiel Heyns.
Jonathan Ball, 710 pp., R 325, October 2012, 978 1 86842 495 5
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Here and Now: Letters 2008-11 
by Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee.
Viking, 256 pp., $27.95, March 2013, 978 0 670 02666 1
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The Childhood of Jesus 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Harvill Secker, 210 pp., £16.99, March 2013, 978 1 84655 769 9
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... A few months before the publication of Dusklands in 1974, J.C. Kannemeyer reports, Peter Randall, the director of Ravan Press in Johannesburg, asked J.M.Coetzee to consider supplying ‘a few more personal details’ for the jacket of his first novel. ‘We are often criticised,’ Randall wrote, ‘for not telling readers about our authors. While I do not ...

In Some Sense True

Tim Parks: Coetzee

21 January 2016
The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy 
by J.M. Coetzee and Arabella Kurtz.
Harvill Secker, 198 pp., £16.99, May 2015, 978 1 84655 888 7
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J.M. Coetzee​ and the Life of Writing: Face to Face with Time 
by David Attwell.
Oxford, 272 pp., £19.99, September 2015, 978 0 19 874633 1
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... Whenever​ we are in the company of J.M.Coetzee, whether it be an interview, a novel, a memoir or an essay, we are inexorably drawn into the realm of the ethical. We must judge and be judged, or at least strive to do the one and brace ourselves ...

Stony Ground

Peter D. McDonald: J.M. Coetzee

20 October 2005
J.M. Coetzee​ and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event 
by Derek Attridge.
Chicago, 225 pp., £13.50, May 2005, 0 226 03117 9
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Slow Man 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 265 pp., £16.99, September 2005, 0 436 20611 0
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... In a respectful but chary review of The Life and Times of Michael K (1983) in the New York Review of Books, Nadine Gordimer wrote about J.M.Coetzee’s ‘conscious choice’ of allegory as a literary mode in his first three novels. The reasons for this, she speculated, were temperamental: It seemed he did so out of a kind of opposing desire to ...

The Atom School

Theo Tait: J.M. Coetzee

3 November 2016
The Schooldays of Jesus 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Harvill Secker, 260 pp., £17.99, August 2016, 978 1 911215 35 6
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... Growing detachment​ from the world is of course the experience of many writers as they grow older, grow cooler or colder,’ JC, the authorial surrogate in J.M.Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year (2007), writes. The texture of their prose becomes thinner, their treatment of character and action more schematic. The syndrome is usually ascribed to a waning of creative ...

Uneasy Guest

Hermione Lee: Coetzee​ in London

11 July 2002
Youth 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 169 pp., £14.99, May 2002, 0 436 20582 3
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... introspection, and not much else’; ‘as fiction it is so interior and cerebral, it fails to engage’; ‘not wholly satisfactory as either novel or memoir’). Is the tide turning against Coetzee? Or is this darkly teasing little book really so much worse than its predecessors? It’s not as if we expected to be charmed. The drab early 1960s London setting is as grim as Coetzee’s South ...

Like a Dog

Elizabeth Lowry: J.M. Coetzee

14 October 1999
Disgrace 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 220 pp., £14.99, July 1999, 0 436 20489 4
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The Lives of Animals 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Princeton, 127 pp., £12.50, May 1999, 0 691 00443 9
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... The personal life is dead,’ Pasternak wrote in Doctor Zhivago – ‘history has killed it.’ In J.M.Coetzee’s new novel, Disgrace, which is set in a violent post-apartheid South Africa, David Lurie, a Cape Town academic, reaches a similar conclusion when his daughter Lucy is gang-raped by three black men ...

Fictioneering

Frank Kermode: J.M. Coetzee

8 October 2009
Summertime 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Harvill Secker, 266 pp., £17.99, August 2009, 978 1 84655 318 9
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... Each of these earlier books is a portrait of the artist at the relevant age. This new volume is different: it records a series of interviews, by a prospective biographer, of people who knew Coetzee, along with some notes by the biographer himself about possible additions and developments. By the time of the interviews the novelist, who emigrated to Australia, has not only won the Nobel Prize ...

Saint Jane

D.A.N. Jones

20 October 1983
The Good Father 
by Peter Prince.
Cape, 204 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 224 02131 1
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Mrs Pooter’s Diary 
by Keith Waterhouse and John Jensen.
Joseph, 208 pp., £7.95, October 1983, 0 7181 2339 5
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Dandiprat’s Days 
by David Thomson.
Dent, 165 pp., £8.50, September 1983, 0 460 04613 6
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The Dream of a Beast 
by Neil Jordan.
Chatto, 103 pp., £6.95, October 1983, 0 7011 2740 6
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Squeak: A Biography of NPA 1978A 203 
by John Bowen and Eric Fraser.
Faber, 127 pp., £2.95, October 1983, 0 571 13170 0
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The Life and Times of Michael K 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 250 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 436 10297 8
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... book, a work of natural philosophy. John Bowen has contrived a story which suits his tendency to be both ‘down-to-earth’ and strangely, almost inhumanly, distanced from his characters. Since J.M.Coetzee often writes about cruel whites and suffering blacks in South Africa, he doubtless occasions feelings of compassion and political indignation in his admirers. But he does not go out of his way to ...
13 September 1990
My Son’s Story 
by Nadine Gordimer.
Bloomsbury, 277 pp., £13.99, September 1990, 0 7475 0764 3
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Age of Iron 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 181 pp., £12.99, September 1990, 0 436 20012 0
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... of other people’s privacy. More than any other major contemporary writer, she remains loyal to the social mission that a 19th-century realist such as George Eliot professed. But both she and J.M.Coetzee confront the situation of present-day South Africa in which, under the National Party and its possible successors, the right to privacy is everywhere denied. Everything is political, and all politics ...

In a Cold Country

Michael Wood: Coetzee’s Grumpy Voice

4 October 2007
Diary of a Bad Year 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Harvill, 231 pp., £16.99, September 2007, 978 1 84655 120 8
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Inner Workings: Essays 2000-2005 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Harvill, 304 pp., £17.99, March 2007, 978 1 84655 045 4
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... A new novel by J.M.Coetzee is always an event, although often a disconcerting one. ‘Disconcerting’ will be too polite a word for many readers, who can’t bear the chill that emanates from these works, especially Disgrace ...

Beltz’s Beaux

D.A.N. Jones

3 March 1983
Marienbad 
by Sholom Aleichem, translated by Aliza Shevrin.
Weidenfeld, 222 pp., £7.95, February 1983, 0 297 78200 2
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A Coin in Nine Hands 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Dori Katz.
Aidan Ellis, 192 pp., £7.95, January 1983, 0 85628 123 9
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Entry into Jerusalem 
by Stanley Middleton.
Hutchinson, 172 pp., £7.50, January 1983, 0 09 150950 5
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People Who Knock on the Door 
by Patricia Highsmith.
Heinemann, 306 pp., £7.95, January 1983, 0 434 33521 5
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A Visit from the Footbinder 
by Emily Prager.
Chatto, 174 pp., £7.95, February 1983, 0 7011 2675 2
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Dusklands 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 125 pp., £6.95, January 1983, 9780436102967
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... I saw was: ‘The ear I had bitten off was not forgotten.’ On the same page, the narrator complains of ants biting ‘my tender anus, on to my weeping rose, my nobly laden testicles’. J.M.Coetzee is a South African, educated in the United States. The biting of ear and ants occurs in the second of his two monologues – the narrative of an implausible 18th-century explorer called Coetzee in ...

A Frog’s Life

James Wood: Coetzee’s Confessions

23 October 2003
Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 233 pp., £14.99, September 2003, 0 436 20616 1
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... There may be many readers who, on hearing of J.M.Coetzee’s Nobel Prize, immediately thought about the cost of clarity. There is so much, after all, missing from Coetzee’s distinguished books. His prose is precise, but blanched; in place of comedy there is only bitter irony (this is Coetzee’s large difference from Beckett, whom he so clearly admires); in place of ...

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