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Web Letter

What is Summertime, then?

I think it to be some sort of confession, some strange literary epitaph of a man looking back during autumn, with winter nearby. An artist coming of age is an altogether other being when the artist has become what he/she finally is: most of the oeuvre has been constructed, awards and recognition have or haven't materialized, etc. etc.

Hence Summertime, when the living supposedly should be easy: Coetzee, however, sets out to give his dead alter ego a big spanking. For Coetzee is in the know now, looking at his literary work in comparison with that of many others. Are his literary heroes from his early years the same as before, in other words, has he grown, in either taste or conception? Somehow there seems to be a lack of just that, a thing he feels by voicing Sophie's insights, notwithstanding his mastery with words. He, Nobel Prize laureate, is fair enough to state and therefor admit his lack of width; he prefers depth, where one gets personal, probing the psyche.

What else is writing a series of novels than looking in a mirror with nothing else to do, finally? An all-consuming self, frantically eating one's own tail, over and over again. Topics/subjects can be found in our daily papers, in archives and in our fantasy, yet he confines himself to, well, himself. In all his honesty Coetzee has written a review on all his work, of which he seems not entirely content: "The control of the elements is too tight. Nowhere do you get a feeling of a writer deforming his medium in order to say what has never been said before, which is to me the mark of great writing." Sure, Sophie's words, yet his thoughts! I somehow gather his ambition caught up with him, for he has achieved all what a writer possibly could. Yet he doesn't especially like the taste of his own recipe!

Being stuck now, trapped if you like, in his own trademark he cannot but conclude that his work is too tight, lacking joy, vibrancy, engagement, wit and width at the same time. Why, for instance, mentioning reading all of Ford Maddox Ford, who dates back to antiquity? Confessing this makes Coetzee an old-school author, great, one of the greatest, yet, as he puts in the mouth of Sophie, French professor at the University of Cape Town, it "lacks ambition." Furthermore, Coetzee, not a man known for his sense of humor, makes her compare him to a tortoise: how candid can one be in describing ones own inner workings?

Coetzee, a great writer, with a rather small palette: a pointillist, not a surrealist. Alas, this day and age are filled with surrealistic events.

Wouter Krijbolder

's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands

Feb 6 2010 - 9:23am