0359 | Elizabeth Costello | J. M. Coetzee


Context: Finished this as Mrs Arukiyomi was hosting one of her popular cafes one Saturday.


This was a really strange novel. You can’t win the Nobel Prize without being a bit strange to read. I don’t think, on the whole, that I enjoyed this at all. And I struggled to get the point of it.

It started out okay with the writer kind of doing the literary equivalent of breaking the fourth wall, so to speak, by addressing the reader about how a novel is constructed. But this seemed to fall by the wayside and, as I was enjoying that, I felt like someone had left me after starting to play a game with me.

The book follows an aging novelist as she gives lectures around the world, and is invited to speak in places where she is rarely well-known and never understood. It’s pretty depressing overall and is possibly about the way that we age and become more myopic as we do.

There are also some extracts from her life, which I appreciated more than the lectures and the debates that she enters into. I really didn’t get those.

The book is basically way over my head, with literary and philosophical references I would never even want to understand. I still like Coetzee, but this is right at the bottom of his pile for me.


There is first of all the problem of the opening, name, how to get us from where we are, which is, as yet, nowhere, to the far bank.


“Frankly Blanche, there is something about the entire crufixional tradition that strikes me as mean, as backward, as medieval in the worst sense – unwashed monks, illiterate priests, cowed peasants. What are you up to, reproducing the most squalid phase of European history in Africa?”

“Holbein,” says Blanche. “Grunewald. If you want the human form in extremis, go to them. The dead Jesus. The Jesus in the tomb.”

“I don’t see what you are getting at.”

“Holbein and Grunewald were not artists of the Catholic Middle Ages. They belonged to the Reformation.”

“This is not a quarrel I am conducting with the historical Catholic Church, Blanche. I am asking what you, you yourself, have against beauty. Why should people not be able to look at a work of art and think to themselves, That is what we as a species are capable of being, that is what I am capable of being, rather than looking at it and thinking to themselves, My God, I am going to die, am I going to be eaten by worms?”


Save us.


0359 | Elizabeth Costello | Coetzee | 57% | Okay

Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement Read more about how I come up with my ratings

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