Tuesday, 26 February 2013


I really enjoyed Summertime by J. M. Coetzee.   It's basically a series of engrossing interviews (well, these are often recorded as discourses) purportedly by a biographer of a deceased author relating to a 5 year period when the biographer senses the author was 'finding his feet as an author'.

The interviews are with a number of people who knew the subject in South Africa in the period 1972-77, including a married woman with whom he had an affair, his cousin, a Brazilian dancer who the subject was 'keen' on but who rejected him and a couple of former colleagues.    As the interviews probe and analyse, a fascinating picture evolves of the subject, as a person who was quite awkward, yet had strong views about a range of matters, including in particular the racial issues in the country at that time. 

The dustjacket describes the work as a 'fictionised account' - yet the subject is in fact identified as John Coetzee!    References are made to several of his books, and to the fact that he is a Noble prize winner, and many of the events described in the book correspond to events in his life (see Wikipedia).     Nevertheless, in the book, Coetzee is referred to as having died!   Thus, the intriguing matter for the reader is to try and discern what is fiction and what is autobiographical.      To the extent that the book is biographical, it certainly displays a great ability on the part of the author to analyse himself through the eyes of others, to an extent that I think very few people would have.  In fact, one wonders how it can be that the Coetzee that the interviewees describe can possibly have this level of perception. Of course, Coetzee is, it seems, an unusual person.

I read the Guardian's review only after I had finished the book, and was interested in the comment that the book is "flagrantly autobiographical".    Admittedly the review goes on to say that you mustn't assume that anything stated in the book is necessarily factual.    But, to the extent that the book is autobiographical,  the issue arises as to the existence and identity of the "interviewees", as in many respects they, too, are explored and probed, and the reader is left to ponder how they would regard this book if they were to read it.   Perhaps it is in the descriptions of the interviewees that more of the fiction comes in?

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