Author: JM Coetzee
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Price: Rs 735
Summertime takes this playfulness as far as it can go. Set in South Africa in the 1970s, it focuses on John Coetzee's years there as a teacher and a writer. The bulk of the book comprises interviews that an English biographer conducts for the sake of his own book.
The John Coetzee of Summertime, like the author of Summertime, has won the Nobel Prize. He has written the books that JM Coetzee has written. Eventually, like JM Coetzee, he left his native South Africa for Australia.
But John, unlike JM is dead. The biography that is the central conceit of Summertime is an act of posthumous homage, of trying to understand the work and, more importantly, the man who had seemed so reclusive and elusive in his lifetime.
How much of all this is about JM and how much of all this is about John? It's hard to tell. And should it matter if we can't? No, it doesn't.
Because in this dazzlingly clever, complex and hall-of-mirrors of a book, JM Coetzee seems to be doing two things.
First, he is telling us that what's worth knowing of a writer is all in the books. And secondly, he offers us a fascinating depiction of writerly struggle and ambition, of self-loathing and anguish, and of loneliness and insecurity.