Summertime

JM Coetzee

Summertime

A young English biographer is working on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. He plans to focus on the years from 1972-1977 when Coetzee, in his thirties, is sharing a run-down cottage in the suburbs of Cape Town with his widowed father. This, the biographer senses, is the period when he was 'finding his feet as a writer'. Never having met Coetzee, he embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to him - a married woman with whom he had an affair, his favourite cousin Margot, a Brazilian dancer whose daughter had English lessons with him, former friends and colleagues. From their testimony emerges a portrait of the young Coetzee as an awkward, bookish individual with little talent for opening himself to others. Within the family he is regarded as an outsider, someone who tried to flee the tribe and has now returned, chastened. His insistence on doing manual work, his long hair and beard, rumours that he writes poetry evoke nothing but suspicion in the South Africa of the time. 4.3 out of 5 based on 6 reviews
Summertime

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction
Format Hardback
Pages 272
RRP £17.99
Date of Publication August 2009
ISBN 978-1846553189
Publisher Harvill Secker
 

A young English biographer is working on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. He plans to focus on the years from 1972-1977 when Coetzee, in his thirties, is sharing a run-down cottage in the suburbs of Cape Town with his widowed father. This, the biographer senses, is the period when he was 'finding his feet as a writer'. Never having met Coetzee, he embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to him - a married woman with whom he had an affair, his favourite cousin Margot, a Brazilian dancer whose daughter had English lessons with him, former friends and colleagues. From their testimony emerges a portrait of the young Coetzee as an awkward, bookish individual with little talent for opening himself to others. Within the family he is regarded as an outsider, someone who tried to flee the tribe and has now returned, chastened. His insistence on doing manual work, his long hair and beard, rumours that he writes poetry evoke nothing but suspicion in the South Africa of the time.

Read an extract, courtesy of the New York Review of Books

Reviews

The Literary Review

Lyndall Gordon

Superb... When Virginia Woolf reviewed the third, posthumous volume of Henry James’s autobiography, she thought his memories yet more wonderful than his novels. In the same way, J M Coetzee’s third volume of Scenes from Provincial Life is a lasting return to home ground.

01/09/2009

Read Full Review


The Observer

Thomas Jones

Summertime is both an elegant request that the sum of Coetzee's existence as a public figure should be looked for only in his writing, and ample evidence, once again, why that request should be honoured.

06/09/2009

Read Full Review


The Independent

Boyd Tonkin

Bleak, chilly but finely calibrated, a deadpan humour anchors Summertime: the human absurdity of a lofty nobody cultivating his "principles" at the edge of an abyss... The book will easily wrongfoot any naïve seeker of correspondences between art and life. That is part of its point – but so too is the tender and incisive portrayal of thwarted feelings in a time of troubles, and the robustly drawn women who give this anaemic anti-hero lessons in a tougher kind of truth.

04/09/2009

Read Full Review


The Independent on Sunday

James Urquhart

How far the reader wants to map the somewhat wintry lament of Summertime back on to JM Coetzee's life depends on how far one is willing to extrapolate plausible fact from nuanced, many-layered fiction. What Summertime offers is a subtle, allusive meditation: an intriguing map of a weak character's constricted heart struggling against the undertow of suspicion within South Africa's claustrophobic, unpoetic, overtly macho society.

06/09/2009

Read Full Review


The Spectator

Michela Wrong

One admires the art. The writer’s ironic detachment, his playful tweaking of narrative conventions and readers’ expectations, causes a wry curl of the lip. But at the end the reader is left hungering for some form of resolution, an end to this game of bluff and double-bluff. No one is obliged to write a memoir. When an author does so, he probably owes it to his audience to answer a basic question: who is he? Coetzee, in these pages, only deigns to flirt with the notion.

02/09/2009

Read Full Review


The Sunday Times

David Grylls

It is all done with ventriloquial brilliance: the interruptions, hesitations, gaps and contradictions sound uncannily convincing. But an uneasy irony hangs over the enterprise ... Ostensibly, Coetzee projects himself as a marginal, maladroit figure, a failure in love and literature. But is this really unsparing self-dissection or a sophisticated exercise in self-approval? In Summertime he has in effect drafted his own obituary.

23/08/2009

Read Full Review


©2013 The Omnivore