Inner Workings

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 March, 2009, 12:00am

Inner Workings

by J.M. Coetzee

Vintage, HK$136

To find out about J.M. Coetzee read his non-fiction collection, Inner Workings, alongside his recent Diary of a Bad Year. In that novel, the protagonist seems a dead ringer for its creator: 'JC' is an eminent critic writing piercing essays for a book called Strong Opinions. Coetzee numbs the sting in some of the articles in Inner Workings, a volume of literary essays (many written originally for The New York Review of Books). About V.S. Naipaul's novel Half a Life, for instance, he writes that 'the technical weaknesses ... are not negligible'. Essays at the front of the book group central European writers such as Italo Svevo and Walter Benjamin. Coetzee also reviews writing by other Nobel Prize winners, such as Gunter Grass, Nadine Gordimer and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose Memories of My Melancholy Whores receives the hardest criticism, as 'not a major achievement'. Fans will gorge on the essays; newcomers may find comments - such as those in pieces about Graham Greene's Brighton Rock and Philip Roth's The Plot Against America - interesting enough to want to know more about Coetzee. For that they would do well to consume his fiction.