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Diary of a Bad Year

New or Used: 4 copies from $7.20
New or Used: 4 copies from $7.20

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The aging Senor C (a stand-in for Nobel prize winner Coetzee?) asks lovely Anya to help type his latest book, not really a diary but heated opinions on topics as far-ranging as art, academia, and President Bush. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

An ageing male writer has been asked to contribute to Strong Opinions, a book of essays by six eminent thinkers from around the world. Encouraged to expound on what is wrong with the world, these essays range in topic from tourism to mathematics, from the state of universities to the effects of intelligent design. A chance encounter with a sexy female neighbour, Anya, in the communal laundry of their apartment complex leads to the writer offering her a job as a typist. Reluctant at first, Anya soon becomes involved in his work, giving her opinion on his philosophies while at the same time teasing him with saucy looks and a waggling posterior and affectionately dubbing him the Señor. When her ambitious boyfriend, Alan, realises that she has a soft spot for the old man, he starts to spy on the Senor and hatches a plot to take advantage of him. J M Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year introduces the reader to a highly imaginative way of reading. The three strands of the novel are set in parallel sections of text on each page, running on for multiple pages with apparently no consideration for the reader's ability to keep up. And yet, each section is so distinctive in voice and so deceptively well paced that it soon becomes second nature to flick backwards and forwards through the book, reading fragments of first this section and then the other. The effect of this sort of layout is that each reader will read the book differently and their experience of the book could also change with each reading. How immersed you want to be in each section is up to you, and you can plunge into a fine essay on national shame or extricate yourself from an argument between Anya and Alan as you wish. As the Señor airs his concerns for the future of humanity and the planet, the reader forms the impression of an intelligent, humane, dignified man with a highly developed social conscience (it is often impossible not to picture Coetzee himself speaking the Señor's words) but there is also a certain uneasy vulnerability in his relationship with Anya and Alan. This intricately crafted contrast is an appropriate example of the perfect pitch of this novel, at once a fascinating work of nonfiction and an uncompromising glimpse of what lies beneath the surface of seemingly ordinary lives. Kabita Dhara is a Melbourne-based editor, reviewer and bookseller

Nobelist Coetzee's 19th book features a stand-in for himself: Se?or C, a white 72-year-old South African writer living in Australia who has written Waiting for the Barbarians. C falls into a "metaphysical" passion for his sexy 29-year-old Filipina neighbor, Anya, and quickly plots to spend more time with her by offering her a job as his typist. C's latest project is a series of political and philosophical essays, and Coetzee divides each page of the present novel in three: any given page features a bit of an essay (often its title and opening paragraph) at the top; C's POV in the middle; and Anya's voice at the bottom. C's opinions in the essays are mostly on the left (he despises Bush, Blair & Co., and is opposed to the Iraq War) and they bore Anya, who wants something less lofty. Meanwhile, Anya's lover, Alan-a smart, conservative 42-year-old investment consultant who's good in the sack, and who stands for everything C despises-becomes increasingly scornful and jealous, and eventually concocts an elaborate plan to defraud C. of money. Unfortunately, Anya is little more than a trophy to be disputed, and Alan as an unscrupulous, boorish reactionary is a caricature. While C's essays, especially the later ones inspired by Anya, hold some interest, this follow-up to Slow Year is not one of Coetzee's major efforts. (Jan.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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