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Elizabeth Costello


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About the Author

J.M. Coetzee's work includes Waiting for the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Boyhood, Youth, Disgrace, Summertime, The Childhood of Jesus and, most recently, The Schooldays of Jesus. He was the first author to win the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003.


A brilliant technique: Coetzee purports to disclose the life of a distinguished Australian through eight speeches she gave. No wonder he's won two Bookers. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Even more uncompromising than usual, this latest novel by Coetzee (his first since 1999's Booker Prize-winning Disgrace) blurs the bounds of fiction and nonfiction while furthering the author's exploration of urgent moral and aesthetic questions. Elizabeth Costello, a fictional aging Australian novelist who gained fame for a Ulysses-inspired novel in the 1960s, reveals the workings of her still-formidable mind in a series of formal addresses she either attends or delivers herself (an award acceptance speech, a lecture on a cruise ship, a graduation speech). This ingenious structure allows Coetzee to circle around his protagonist, revealing her preoccupations and contradictions her relationships with her son, John, an academic, and her sister, Blanche, a missionary in Africa; her deep, almost fanatical concern with animal rights; her conflicted views on reason and realism; her grapplings with the human problems of sex and spirituality. The specters of the Holocaust and colonialism, of Greek mythology and Christian morality, and of Franz Kafka and the absurd haunt the novel, as Coetzee deftly weaves the intense contemplation of abstractions with the everyday life of an all-too-human body and mind. The struggle for self-expression comes to a wrenching climax when Elizabeth faces a final reckoning and finds herself at a loss for words. This is a novel of weighty ideas, concerned with what it means to be human and with the difficult and seductive task of making meaning. It is a resounding achievement by Coetzee and one that will linger with the reader long after its reverberating conclusion. (Oct. 20) Forecast: This is not the most accessible of Coetzee's novels, but it is an important addition to the author's body of work and heady reading for those who enjoy novels of ideas. Most of the book's chapters have been published separately, two as part of the nonfiction volume The Lives of Animals (Princeton, 1999). Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Fans of Coetzee’s excellent previous novels may be thrown by the style of his latest, which marks a departure from his earlier work. Elizabeth Costello is an ageing Australian novelist, heaped with accolades and largely famous for an early bestseller. Her final years are spent touring the world delivering lectures in a variety of settings, from American universities to Pacific cruise ships. The majority of the book seems to be taken up with this series of lectures, each printed almost in full, discussing literature, realism, animal rights and the nature of life and death. Most of these lectures have been previously published in other forms. The effect is that of a Kundera novel minus the characterisation (and, might I say, the wit). Like Kundera, Coetzee uses the novel as a platform for an overriding philosophy—namely, views on our treatment of animals, canvassing of ideas about immortality and the afterlife, and an examination of the writer’s role in society. Some readers may find it engrossing, but I found that the rather dry lectures that dominate the book leave little room for character development, providing the reader with little reason to care about what the title character has to say. Jo Case is a bookseller at Avenue Bookstore. C. 2003 Thorpe-Bowker and contributors

"'One of Coetzee's best...simply burns with creative passion' D.J. Taylor, Independent; 'An important book...Extraordinary' Independent on Sunday; 'Probably the best book on the (Booker) longlist, the one that will last...Every word counts. Every sentence lives' Evening Standard; 'A readable and engaging book...Demanding, playful, provocative...hugely enlightening and rewarding' Sunday Times; 'Richly rewarding' Daily Mail; 'Highly readable and bracing' Scotsman; 'Deals bravely with problems that few other writers dare to think about' Telegraph"

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