May 23, 2004

J.M. Coetzee

Honor/Honors, Noble/Nobel -- I’ve always been a bit perplexed by the writing adage that there are only two plots in the world: “a man takes a journey” or “a stranger comes to town.” Seems to me there’s really only one plot and everything else is a matter of point of view. You’re either walking with the man on his journey or watching the traveler arrive. (Spending so much time proving and disproving old writing saws is Reason # 312 why I will never win the Nobel Prize for literature!) Coetzee’s protagonist is a university professor who takes a taut journey into his own heart of darkness, a vividly rendered place in which he encounters murky questions of personal honor and experiences an all-too-real violence. The dialogue sometimes shifts into short speeches, but that, too, fits these characters; in turn, each revels in his and her moment in the spotlight.


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