Context: Took my laptop to pieces to give it a clean while I read this. This included removing all the keys off the keyboard. It was disgusting under there!
This was a strange one, quite the most unusual Coetzee from the ones I’ve read before (Disgrace, Michael K, Heart of the Country, Youth). For a start it didn’t involve South Africa at any point. Neither was it a contemporary time period. But it was laced with the usual dark, foreboding analysis of the human condition we’ve come to expect from the Nobel Prize-Winner.
The novel is set, as the title might reveal, in St Petersburg, Russia although I was half-inclined to think that it might have been a reference to a South African town. It’s set in the 19th century. It opens with a man grieving the untimely death of his son.
As the novel progresses, what started initially as a simple visit to the city turns into a protracted affair. The death is more mysterious than the father thinks. The police get involved. The identity of the father adds a further twist and, as per most Coetzee, there’s plenty of badly-performed, guilt-ridden sexual encounters.
You don’t really enjoy a Coetzee book. They’re usually too brutally honest to be enjoyed. Did I appreciate it? Yes. But I can’t tell you much about why without giving away some of the plot. Suffice to say that the large body of Russian literature I’ve read was a particular help to me. I thought Coetzee did an amazing job of creating the character of the father and weaving him into the story.
Not my favourite Coetzee at all but for those of you who are already drawn to his novels, try this one to get a welcome glimpse of his diverse ability.
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