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  • Sep 16, 2014
  • Updated: 4:51pm

Diary of a Bad Year

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 May, 2009, 12:00am

Diary of a Bad Year

by J.M. Coetzee

Vintage, HK$104

J.M. Coetzee is nothing if not divisive. Some (the Nobel Prize committee, Booker judges) think he's the cat's whiskers. Others (1991 Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer) think he is a cold fish - cerebral, difficult and unpleasant to read. Diary of a Bad Year will do little to cheer those in the anti-Coetzee camp, being a semi-factual, semi-fictional tale 'narrated' simultaneously on two halves of the same page. On top is a series of essays that our narrator is contributing to a book titled Strong Opinions. At the bottom is a tale about meeting Anna in the laundry room of his building. Dressed only in a tomato-red shift ('startling in its brevity'), she is quickly hired to type the essay taking up the top part of the page. Just who this narrator might be is one of several games. Now resident in Australia, the South African author was an academic whose initials are J.C. and whose works include Waiting for the Barbarians. Ring any bells? Coetzee even mocks the cow pats flung at his reputation: 'At heart he is not a novelist after all, they say, but a pedant who dabbles in fiction.' It is either striking, innovative stuff or self-indulgent cant. I can't decide which.

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