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Slow Man Hardcover – September 22, 2005

3.6 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Is it the responsibility of Nobel Prize winners to showcase their brilliance or ensure a strong readership? If intelligent readers don’t understand the author, what’s 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, Coetzee’s 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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 265 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (September 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670034592
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670034598
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #248,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stacey M Jones on June 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee is his most recent work of fiction, and completes (for now) my goal to read all of Coetzee's fiction. This novel is different in some ways than his other fiction, though it deals, again with rhetoric, communication, meaning and process, but in, what I thought, was a very different and profound way.

Slow Man is the story of Paul Rayment, an Australian photographer about 60 years old, who is injured in an accident (he is riding his bicycle and is hit by a man driving a pick-up truck), and must have his leg amputated as a result. He refuses a prosthesis and returns to his apartment where he lives alone. Despondent over his lack of independence, he fixates on his Croatian nurse, Marijana, and her family.

This aspect of the novel is fairly straight-forward, but then comes Elizabeth Costello. (Yes, it is the same woman who figured in some of the essays of The Lives of Animals and the novel Elizabeth Costello.) She shows up univited to Rayment's apartment and moves in, introducing strange interludes, goading and cajoling Rayment, who resents her presence (he doesn't know her), but strangely allows himself to be subjected to her dominance and influence.

The plot cycles through issues that Paul has with Marijana, for whom he develops feelings, and her husband, son and daughter, his photography collection, and his efforts or nonefforts to adapt to his new physical situation. He considers his choices, his independence (or loneliness?), his career, his legacy, all in contrast to the fullness of Marijana's family life and their struggles as an immigrant family in Australia.

Elizabeth Costello's presence in the novel is very different from the reality put forth regarding Paul's life after the accident.
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Format: Paperback
Slow Man is the first Coetzee book I have read. I don't know how or why I picked this book first but I did. There were two fine points I did not know when I started to read the book that were key to understanding it, which I assume readers of Coetzee may have known. Fortunately, I learned about these points very shortly after the introduction of Elizabeth Costello into the story line. First, Elizabeth Costello is the title character for another Coetzee book and second she is also Coetzee's alter ego. Once I knew these two points the book made sense.

Slow Man seemed to me a book that Coetzee probably started with an idea in mind and had a problem actuating it. Paul Rayment, his lead protagonist, and his struggles as an aging man after a bike accident cripples him and forces him to examine himself and his life situation is an interesting topic to pursue. The introduction of Mrs. Costello though left me with the impression that Coetzee could not bring that story line to completion. Instead he introduces himself through Mrs. Costello and at times seems ranting to us that his character will not grow or go where he wants him to go. At times the author seems to be screaming for the character to hurry up and push on in his growth so he can be done with it. His frustrations and what I assume are the effects on him physically and mentally through the process of writing are relayed through Mrs. Costello. While this may be interesting to the reader at times, at other times it was not.

In the end, Paul Rayment has grown. He and Costello (Coetzee) are able to depart from each other amiably. I image a deep sigh was released by Coetzee upon completion of the writing process though.

Overall, the book was a quick read and interesting read, if you know the background. Otherwise it might have seemed odd as you tried to understand who Mrs. Costello was and how she came to have the knowledge she holds.
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Format: Hardcover
Coetzee has quietly established himself as one of a small handful of writers whose names get tossed about under the label of "greatest living authors." His work combines all the elements necessary to deserve that honor. He is an artist, a craftsman, and a thinker. His novels are carefully written and deeply meaningful. His prose is elegant, his characters are genuine, his stories are engaging. And his writing is full of purpose.

One of the things I like best about this book, and Coetzee's writing in general, is that he is not afraid to show the ugly side of human nature. He is confident enough in his writing that he can create a hero who is nowhere near perfect. In some cases, in fact, the hero is downright pathetic. Such is the case with Paul Rayment, our protagonist here. At his core we see him as a good person, yet profoundly flawed at the same time. He succumbs to serious lapses in judgment and falls deep into self-victimization, and yet we still admire him, or the very least we sympathize with him. For in many ways, he is just like all of us.

This book deals magnificently with the most basic of human needs - the need to love and be loved, and the need to leave a legacy. As our main character faces the onset of old age, and as a tragic accident leaves him without a leg and forces him to contemplate his own mortality, he begins to regret the wasted opportunities of his life. He realizes, too late, that there will be little to remember him by once he is gone. He carefully preserves his collection of rare photographs which he plans to donate to the state library when he dies, but even he himself recognizes the little value this collection has if his whole life's worth is to be judged by it.
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