From Publishers Weekly
Nobel-winner Coetzee (Disgrace
) ponders life, love and the mind/ body connection in his latest heavy-hitter; he also plays a little trick. When retired photographer Paul Rayment loses his leg in a bicycle accident, his lengthy, lonely recuperation forces him to reflect on a life he deems wasted. The gloom lifts with the arrival of brisk, efficient Marijana Jokic, his Croatian day nurse, with whom Paul becomes infatuated. (He also takes a special interest in Marijana's teenage boy—the son he never had.) It's here, while Paul frets over how to express his feelings, that Coetzee (perhaps unsure if his dithering protagonist can sustain the book) gets weird: the distinguished writer Elizabeth Costello, eponymous heroine of Coetzee's 2003 novel, comes for a visit. To Paul's bewilderment, Costello (Coetzee's alter ego?) exhorts him to become more of a main character in the narrative, even orchestrating events to force his reactions. Some readers will object to this cleverness and the abstract forays into the mysteriousness of the writing process. It is to Coetzee's credit, however, a testament to his flawless prose and appealing voice, that while challenging the reader with postmodern shenanigans, the story of how Paul will take charge of his life and love continues to engage, while Elizabeth Costello the device softens into a real character, one facing frailties of her own. She pushes Paul, or Paul pushes Elizabeth—both push Coetzee—on to the bittersweet conclusion.
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South African Nobel laureate Coetzee sets his new novel in Australia, his current residence. It could have been a good book. The power of his prose--at once nimble and muscular--and, concomitantly, the immediate recognition we gain of his penetrating vision into human motivation all work to keep the narrative buoyant. But because of one particular plot device the author chooses to fit in, the novel refuses to sail very high in the water. A 60-year-old former photographer by the name of Paul Rayment, who has no family, is struck by a car while riding his bicycle and must have his leg amputated. A day nurse is called for, and one is called; and so are launched more complications in Paul's life than "simply" the readjustment of losing a limb. His affection for his married-with-children nurse accompanies an intense retrospection prompted by his new physical condition. But, at a cost for the good of the novel, Coetzee ushers onto the stage the eponymous character from his previous novel, Elizabeth Costello
, as a sort of nemesis and fairy godmother for Paul. What Coetzee wanted this novel to do--show the ultimately humanizing effect of a crisis of physical frailty--could have been accomplished much more expressly without this exasperating contrivance. Still, Coetzee is a major writer, and this novel will be highly requested. Brad HooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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