Monday, April 13, 2015

Why I Will Never Read J.M. Coetzee Again (not that the goofball cares, of course)

J.M. Coetzee
Listening to Simon and Thomas (on a recent episode of The Readers podcast) discuss "reading assumptions" got me to thinking about my own preconceived reaction to certain authors and wondering if I were doing myself a disservice in the process of making assumptions similar to those they described.  But when I thought more specifically about some of my assumptions, I decided that the answer to that question is an emphatic "no."  

Let's take South African author J.M. Coetzee as an example of what I mean.  Based almost entirely upon one novel, Diary of a Bad Year, I have come to despise the man.  I have no interest in ever reading another word he has written, or will write in the future, no matter how much critics around the world may love the guy.  Why do I feel that way?

Because in that book, Coetzee comes across as a vicious, little weasel of a man who represents everything I hate about politics and the smear tactics that are so often used today to ruin unfairly the reputations of good men.  Coetzee hates certain U.S. political figures so deeply that he simply cannot control himself in Diary of a Bad Year.  He, in fact, lets his hatred so overwhelm him that, despite his attempt to employ effectively a stylistic gimmick, the stink of his hatred permeates the entire novel.  I finished it only because Coetzee made such a fool of himself that I could not turn away.  In a perverse way, it was a fascinating thing to watch.

So now, and probably forever more, when I see a J.M. Coetzee book in a bookstore, I think of nothing but the pettiness and childishness displayed by its author in Diary of a Bad Year.  Am I wrong for not giving another Coetzee book a chance?  Considering how angry the last one left me feeling, I don't think so.

Life is too short to read all the good books that I want to read, so why should I bother with those that are almost certain to leave me feeling abused?  I do suppose, though, that I should thank Mr. Coetzee for automatically eliminating his novels from consideration each time that I go about choosing the next book.  Anything that simplifies life is a good thing - even when it comes from a man dominated by his one-track mind.

6 comments:

  1. I am from Israel. I not only concur with your take on him but I want to thank you for your courage and good discernment. That's exactly what I felt reading "Here and Now: Letters" - his correspondence with P. Auster. Though I'm not blind and my country is far from being a paragon of virtue, he allows himself - never being here for a moment and brainwashed by the media - to smear Israel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your reply. I admit that I was a bit hesitant to speak out about my reaction to the man's fiction, but it is something that has been bothering me for quite a while. I now consider the man to be a cheap shot artist and have little respect for his work at all.

      Delete
  2. I've not read any of his nonfiction but I think his fiction is quite different. He did win a Nobel after all. I can understand being hesitant to read anything else by him but what about trying one of his novels? I could be a totally different experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stefanie, I wasn't clear about it, but the book is actually a novel. While I'm not a huge fan of the men he so unfairly trashed in the thing, I resent the rant because it pretty much took over the whole book - at least in my eyes. Maybe that is because I felt so insulted by the approach the man took. The character speaking was so consumed by his hatred of the men in question that I started thinking of him as a direct stand-in for Coetzee himself. I grew to thoroughly dislike this man and I know that I would never want to associate with him in the real world.

      I can't remember ever reacting to someone's writing this way before, even when they intentionally go after some public figure as unfairly as this attack was. That's probably because either the writing was of the nonfiction variety, or it did not totally take over the fiction.

      Delete
    2. Ah, I thought this one was nonfiction. What a shame all around really, that the book was so bad and that it was the first (and now last) of his books you have read. But there are plenty of other really good authors and really good books to read and avoiding the works of one author is not the end of the world! :)

      Delete
    3. That's pretty much the way I see it. And honestly? The fact that he won a Nobel Prize is more "proof" to me that I can easily avoid him. IMO, recent winners of various Nobel Prizes have been awarded the prize more for political reasons than for actually having accomplished something worthy of winning any kind of prize.

      Delete