Context: Hosted an event where we projected a film on a sheet we rigged up on the wall of the living room while I read this.
Another great novel(la) from Coetzee. This guy has such a way with words. He just sucks you in. His novels are never uplifting but they describe the human condition with such vivid clarity that it almost makes you feel embarrassed to be a member of the species.
Youth is heavily based on Coetzee’s own experience of emigrating to early 1960s London. Even if you don’t know this when you pick it up, it’s apparent very early on. This lends the book an amazing realism which envelopes you in the character.
Having been a youth and, like Coetzee, been confronted with the myriad choices that lie before you in your early 20s as well as stretches in foreign countries, I completely related to the angst that “John” feels at every turn. Taking jobs that are compromises for the idealism he feels must be, surely, raging deep down in his being, this is a journey of self-discovery which leads pretty much nowhere.
While some might be frustrated with the brevity of the work and the lack of resolution I think this is a perfect vehicle for a description of youth. There is no defining moment in any of us where we can say we have arrived at adulthood. It’s not a matter of initiation but of self-realisation and that is paced differently for us all. For some it can take decades. This was the strength of the novel for me.
I felt very close to “John” and not least because that’s my first name. I related to his insecurities, to his fears and to his constant self-questioning. I wish he’d written this two decades before he did and that I’d had it available to me just as I was leaving school. It would have been much more important to me then. Nevertheless, it was a very good read and has spurred me on to read more of Coetzee.