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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Is it the responsibility of Nobel Prize winners to showcase their brilliance or ensure a strong readership? If intelligent readers dont understand the author, whats the point? The Washington Post likened Slow Man to "an episode of The Twilight Zone by John Barth," with the feeling "that it means something important," even while this meaning remains elusive. Simply, Coetzees postmodern literary trick overwhelms what could have been a provoking rumination on love, old age, and life. Instead, the novel flounders under the weight of ambiguity, cerebral analysis, and lack of scintillating conversation and action. Even readers up for a challenge may be frustrated: it would be better for them to start with the award-winning Disgrace (1999).
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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