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Summertime: Fiction Hardcover – December 24, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Nobel laureate and two-time Booker-winner Coetzee has been shortlisted for the third time for this powerful novel, a semisequel to the fictionalized memoirs Boyhood and Youth that takes the form of a young biographer's interviews with colleagues of the late author John Coetzee. To Dr. Julia Frankl, who briefly sought in Coetzee deliverance from her husband, he was not fully human; to his cousin, Margot Jonker, he is boring, ridiculous and misguided; and to Sophie Denoël, an expert in African literature, Coetzee is an underwhelming writer with no original insight into the human condition. The harshest characterization—and also the best of the interviews—comes from Adriana Nascimento, a Brazilian emigrant who met Coetzee when both were teachers in Cape Town; she was repulsed by the intellectual's attempts at courtship. He is nothing, she says, was nothing... an embarrassment. The biographer's efforts to describe his subject ultimately result in an examination that reaches through fiction and memoir to grasp what the traditional record leaves out. (Jan.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (December 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670021385
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670021383
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,387,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard Pittman on October 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This was a strong contender for the 2009 Man Booker Prize. Many felt it didn't have a chance because Coetzee had already won two Bookers. I certainly preferred Summertime to the Man Booker winner, Wolf Hall.

This is the third in a series that began with Boyhood and continued with Youth. The first two books were fictional biographies of writer John Coetzee and were told in the third person but with insight into Coetzee's thoughts. It is very difficult to assess what is fiction and what is true biography though I simply didn't worry about it and just enjoyed the novels. They're both excellent books but Summertime is even better and is structured very interestingly.

In this novel, he chooses a different approach in that he tells of dead writer John Coetzee through a journalist's interviews with old friends and acquaintances of Coetzee (mostly women.)

The perspective is interesting and his writing about his dead self from the perspective of others was fascinating. It is set in the 70s when Coetzee lives with his aging father in Cape Town. This is around the time just before he first started to publish novels.

Those that tell the story include his cousin Margot whom he planned on marrying when he was a child,a woman whom he became infatuated with but would have none of him and a former lover.

A consistent theme throughout the book is that Coetzee may have turned out to be a great writer but he certainly didn't strike anyone as a person destined for greatness. Through the eyes of others, Coetzee portrays himself as cold, distant, arrogant and somewhat strange. One of the characters does make a comment that Coetzee may not have appeared that he would be a great writer but he didn't win the Nobel Prize for nothing.
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Format: Hardcover
'Summertime' is the brilliant new book by John Coetzee, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 2003. This book is part novel, part fictional biography, part memoir, part alternative history, and an obituary for a living writer. Its essence is the imagined life of John Coetzee from 1971 - 1977 as gathered by a biographer who may or may not be Coetzee himself. The basis of the biography consists of interviews with a few people who knew the author, and fragments from the author's journals.

This book is both ambiguous and a page-turner. It is a mystery about the essence of a man or perhaps his imagined self or alter-ego. We see Coetzee through the eyes of female lovers, relatives, colleagues and unrequited loves all interviewed many years after his supposed death. All of these people paint a similar picture of Coetzee as a bland man, socially inept, unassuming, diminished in some emotional capacity, and lacking passion. Is this who Coetzee was or is this a self-deprecatory construct? Is this bland, diminished man the author stripped of his art? Can any artist be viewed separately from his art? Clearly, Coetzee, stripped of his art, is only a cipher. The book weaves interlocking aspects of Coetzee's personality with ever increasing subtlety. Is the fictional Coetzee the 'real' Coetzee's homunculus or is it a shadow of the real self?

Coetzee lives with his father and both are closed men, emotionally guarded, at times antagonistic towards one another. Coetzee's father is a disbarred lawyer who now works as a bookkeeper. Coetzee is said to have gotten into trouble in the United Stated during the Vietnam war and was deported back to South Africa. The two men live simple, apparently boring and vacuous lives together.
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Format: Hardcover
Coetzee's Scenes from a Provincial Life is turning into one of the weirdest memoir projects ever. Apart from his decision to mix fiction with fact, and the obvious confusion over what is true and what isn't, there is also the public-humiliation aspect of these books. Coetzee really knows how to take himself down a peg: in this latest installment he can't fix a car, can't dance, can't cook, is a poor lover (and, worse, a strange one), has a messy house, a bad haircut, and persists in a teaching career for which he has no special gift. It even rains on his picnic, literally rains on it. All those things that turn you off a person are embodied in John Coetzee. As one woman puts it, he isn't like a real man; he's like one of those priests who seems a perpetual boy, and then one day you find he's suddenly become old. Somehow this wretch managed to pick up a Nobel Prize.

With another writer I might get infuriated with this approach: underneath the masochism, it suggests a control freak who anticipates every criticism--who who wants to tear himself down before anyone else does: "Look, I'll show you how to do it." But I know Coetzee to be a compassionate, empathetic writer; this portrait of a cold fish cannot be the whole truth. So what's going on here?

While many of the elements here are completely made up, a certain residue is left over that, I have no doubt, reflects the reality. This was true of the earlier volumes as well. The shape and taste of the life is there, even if the facts are all wrong. We're left suspecting that the artist, who is heroic, has lived deep inside himself--a sentient iceberg that, all these years later, is still worried over the disappointment and confusion he feels he has caused. Coetzee relieves the memoir of all its boring facts, just as he relieves the novel of all its tiresome artifice, to create the only possible answer for his solitude
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