cover image Late Essays: 2006–2017

Late Essays: 2006–2017

J.M. Coetzee. Viking, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2391-2

In this collection of 23 essays, Coetzee (The Schooldays of Jesus) offers striking, imaginative insights into a varied group of writers, from German poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843) to modern-day master Philip Roth. Coetzee’s entries, roving from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Leo Tolstoy, Samuel Beckett, and Patrick White, raise numerous questions: Why do novels lie to us? What makes Samuel Beckett like Herman Melville? How do translators make choices? In his essay on playwright and fiction writer Heinrich von Kleist, Coetzee reflects on the author’s enigmatic novella The Marquise of O, asking whether there can be aspects of a story that remain unknown even to the author. Yet there are limits to Coetzee’s scope: the authors in this collection are, except for Irene Nemirovsky, male. Moreover, Coetzee reveals a blindness to the female experience, as made apparent when he writes, about the heroine of Daniel Defoe’s Roxana: A Fortunate Mistress, that anything “resistible” isn’t rape and questions how she could be sexually alluring at 50. Nevertheless, Coetzee’s many strong and provocative essays, along with the clarity of his writing and the literary biographies he weaves into his analyses, make this in general a worthwhile work of literary criticism. Agent: Peter Lampack, Peter Lampack Agency. (Jan.)