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2 Burnside Literature- A to Z

Summertime

by

Summertime Cover

ISBN13: 9780670021383
ISBN10: 0670021385
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Staff Pick

As a work shortlisted for the 2009 Booker Prize, much has already been made about Summertime. It is being billed as the third volume of Coetzee's autobiographical Scenes from Provincial Life (after Boyhood and Youth), yet is not mentioned as being such anywhere on the dust jacket or title page of the American edition. While the first two volumes were clear examples of creative nonfiction, Summertime is a work of fiction (however many autobiographical elements it may or may not contain).

The book begins from the premise that Coetzee himself has already passed away and an interviewer attempting to write a critical portrait of the author's life is left to track down surviving individuals who knew him best (colleagues, a former lover, a cousin). The main body of the book is comprised of five of these fictional interviews, and each portrays Coetzee as an altogether unremarkable, shy, emotionally stunted, and loveless man. Yet for those at all familiar with J. M. Coetzee's life, they will notice some obvious factual liberties employed in the writing of Summertime. For example, the Coetzee of the novel is without wife or children, yet in reality, Coetzee was once married and had both a son and a daughter (although his son was killed in an automobile accident in his early 20s).  Having read all of Coetzee's fiction, and much of his nonfiction, I was excited to read another autobiographical work in hopes of gaining further insight into this remarkable writer. Yet now, having had some time to reflect upon the book, it almost seems as if I know less about the Nobel laureate than I did before I began. I cannot help but think that this was, perhaps, Coetzee's goal all along.

"It would be very, very naive to conclude that because the theme was present in his writing it had to be present in his life," one of the fictional interviewees responds when questioned about how much they thought Coetzee's fiction reflected his real life.  Another offers, "He was just a man, a man of his time, talented, maybe even gifted, but, frankly, not a giant....from other people who knew him you will get a different picture, I am sure."  Coetzee, well known to be a private, if not reclusive, individual, attended neither of the Booker Prize banquets at which he was to receive his award. For a man who appears to value his privacy greatly, it would seem somewhat contradictory for him to write a traditional autobiography that dispels decades of rumors and speculative judgments. Hence, we are instead offered Summertime, described on the book's jacket as:

...an inventive and inspired work of fiction that allows J. M. Coetzee to imagine his own life with a critical and unsparing eye, revealing painful moral struggles and attempts to come to grips with what it means to care for another human being.

Perhaps what Coetzee was striving for with Summertime was not so much an autobiographical offering but an affront to those who doggedly pursue the personal details of a man who authors such convincing works. Maybe Summertime is merely an inside joke on Coetzee's behalf, insofar as rather than ignoring ongoing pleas for insight into his personal life, he instead serves up an account of his days commingling fact and fiction wherever he sees fit. By recasting his past in a fictitious future, one is left unable to determine where the threads of truth begin and the tangles of imagination end.

Whatever his intent, Summertime is another compelling, layered, richly imagined work by the great literary master. With a command of prose that borders on tactical precision, Coetzee, as always, employs pathos and refined morality to craft a story that is captivating, thought provoking, disquieting, and often humorous.  Summertime may confound or frustrate a few of Coetzee's more ardent followers, but only because they could not allow the story to be told as the storyteller himself intended.

Consider.  Here we have a man who, in the most intimate of human relations, cannot connect, or can connect only briefly, intermittently. Yet how does he make his living? He makes his living writing reports, expert reports, on intimate human experience. Because that is what novels are about — isn't it? — intimate experience. Novels as opposed to poetry or painting.  Doesn't that strike you as odd?

Recommended by Jeremy, Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

A brilliant new work of fiction from the Nobel Prize-winning author of Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year.

A young English biographer is researching a book about the late South African writer John Coetzee, focusing on Coetzee in his thirties, at a time when he was living in a rundown cottage in the Cape Town suburbs with his widowed father-a time, the biographer is convinced, when Coetzee was finding himself as a writer. Never having met the man himself, the biographer interviews five people who knew Coetzee well, including a married woman with whom he had an affair, his cousin Margot, and a Brazilian dancer whose daughter took English lessons with him. These accounts add up to an image of an awkward, reserved, and bookish young man who finds it hard to make meaningful connections with the people around him.

Summertime is an inventive and inspired work of fiction that allows J.M. Coetzee to imagine his own life with a critical and unsparing eye, revealing painful moral struggles and attempts to come to grips with what it means to care for another human being.

Incisive, elegant, and often surprisingly funny, Summertime is a compelling work by one of today's most esteemed writers.

Review:

"Nobel laureate and two-time Booker-winner Coetzee has been shortlisted for the third time for this powerful novel, a semisequel to the fictionalized memoirs Boyhood and Youth that takes the form of a young biographer's interviews with colleagues of the late author John Coetzee. To Dr. Julia Frankl, who briefly sought in Coetzee deliverance from her husband, he was 'not fully human'; to his cousin, Margot Jonker, he is boring, ridiculous and misguided; and to Sophie Denol, an expert in African literature, Coetzee is an underwhelming writer with 'no original insight into the human condition.' The harshest characterization — and also the best of the interviews — comes from Adriana Nascimento, a Brazilian emigrant who met Coetzee when both were teachers in Cape Town; she was repulsed by the intellectual's attempts at courtship. 'He is nothing,' she says, 'was nothing... an embarrassment.' The biographer's efforts to describe his subject ultimately result in an examination that reaches through fiction and memoir to grasp what the traditional record leaves out." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Synopsis:

This brilliant new work of fiction from the Nobel Prize-winning author of Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year allows Coetzee to imagine his own life, revealing painful moral struggles and attempts to come to grips with what it means to care for another human being.

Synopsis:

Shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize

A brilliant new work of fiction from the Nobel Prize-winning author of Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year

A young English biographer is researching a book about the late South African writer John Coetzee, focusing on Coetzee in his thirties, at a time when he was living in a rundown cottage in the Cape Town suburbs with his widowed father-a time, the biographer is convinced, when Coetzee was finding himself as a writer. Never having met the man himself, the biographer interviews five people who knew Coetzee well, including a married woman with whom he had an affair, his cousin Margot, and a Brazilian dancer whose daughter took English lessons with him. These accounts add up to an image of an awkward, reserved, and bookish young man who finds it hard to make meaningful connections with the people around him.

Summertime is an inventive and inspired work of fiction that allows J.M. Coetzee to imagine his own life with a critical and unsparing eye, revealing painful moral struggles and attempts to come to grips with what it means to care for another human being. Incisive, elegant, and often surprisingly funny, Summertime is a compelling work by one of today's most esteemed writers.

Synopsis:

"Not since Disgrace, has he written with such urgency and feeling." -The New Yorker

Nobel Prize-winning author J. M. Coetzee's new book follows a young biographer as he works on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. The biographer embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to Coetzee during the period when he was "finding his feet as a writer"-in his thirties and sharing a run-down cottage in the suburbs of Cape Town with his widowed father. Their testimonies create an image of an awkward, reserved, and bookish young man who finds it difficult to connect with the people around him. An innovative and inspired work of fiction-incisive, elegant, and often surprisingly funny- Summertime allows one of the most revered writers of our time to imagine his own life with a critical and unsparing eye.

About the Author

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 9, 1940, John Michael Coetzee studied first at Cape Town and later at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in literature. In 1972 he returned to South Africa and joined the faculty of the University of Cape Town. His works of fiction include Dusklands, Waiting for the Barbarians, which won South Africa's highest literary honor, the Central News Agency Literary Award, and the Life and Times of Michael K., for which Coetzee was awarded his first Booker Prize in 1983. He has also published a memoir, Boyhood: Scenes From a Provincial Life, and several essays collections. He has won many other literary prizes including the Lannan Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize and The Irish Times International Fiction Prize. In 1999 he again won Britain's prestigious Booker Prize for Disgrace, becoming the first author to win the award twice in its 31-year history. In 2003, Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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rollyson2002, August 11, 2012 (view all comments by rollyson2002)
Novelists enjoy taking revenge on biographers. A typical example of this phenomenon is William Golding’s The Paper Men (1984), in which a biographer is featured as a snoop digging through his subject’s kitchen pail. Only in rare instances do biographers not come off as second-raters and sensationalists, as in Bernard Malamud’s Dubin’s Lives (1979). But no writer of distinction has definitively challenged the line Henry James laid down in The Aspern Papers (1888), where the biographer is dismissed as a “publishing scoundrel.” Thus J. M. Coetzee’s Summertime is quite a surprise.

Rather than focusing on the unseemly prying biographer��"a young Englishman named only as Vincent, about whom we learn very little��"the subject, Coetzee himself (or rather his fictional persona, since the Coetzee of the novel is deceased) draws most of the fire. The biographer’s interviewees, who represent quite a range of ages, nationalities, genders, and occupations, come to remarkably similar conclusions about Coetzee: He was not much of a lover and did not demonstrate the genius that would be expected of a Nobel Prize winner. “Women didn’t fall for him,” reports Dr. Julia Frankl, who had an affair with the writer. His cousin Margot Jonker wonders what happened to the brilliant boy she once loved and why he has become a drifter living with his father. To Adrianna Nascimento, a Brazilian woman who spurned Coetzee’s advances, he is a fool and hardly a man at all. But wait! It gets worse: Sophie Denoël, one of Coetzee’s colleagues who taught a course with him, concludes he is an overrated writer devoid of originality.

The interviews make powerful, compelling reading because the voices are so distinctive. The biographer rarely interjects himself. He asks questions and occasionally responds to his interviewee’s queries, fending off their hostile comments about biographers as gossip-mongers by blandly announcing that they can excise whatever they deem inappropriate from his narrative. The only male interviewee, Martin, is concerned that Vincent’s interest in Coetzee’s personal life will come “at the expense of the man’s actual achievement as a writer.” But this objection is raised perfunctorily and does not merit the attention some reviewers give it as an example of the novel’s supposedly anti-biographical theme.

Quite often the biographer maintains silence in the face of provocative comments calling his integrity into question. He is there to get the story and remains thoroughly professional. As a result, so much of the palaver about the indiscretions of biographers seems petty��"especially compared to this engrossing investigation of how friends, family, and lovers assess the man they knew. They are far harder on him than any biographer could possibly be.

Coetzee has used himself��"or should we say a simulacrum of himself��"to show that biography has a powerful a story to tell, regardless of who is hurt and whose privacy is violated. Coetzee seems an anomaly among modern authors, many of whom put their energies into thwarting biographers and trashing the genre. In contrast, Coetzee addresses the profound human need biography satisfies. It is as if he said to himself, “I cannot control what others have thought of me. In fact, there is a pattern of such reactions that some biographer is bound to shape into a narrative. So why not take a whack at it myself?”

For Coetzee, the biographer is not the issue. In Summertime, we do not even learn Vincent’s full name, let alone the experiences that led him to pick his subject��" his motivations are not the point. On the contrary, Coetzee seems to realize that he has drawn the world to himself, and the world will find him out. A biography is not something he owes the public; it is just inevitable, no matter what he does and no matter what kind of life he has fashioned.

In so far as the biographer does present a brief for his work, it is mainly this idea that Coetzee belongs to the world and no permission or authorization is required to write Coetzee’s life. The biographer tells this to one of his wary informants, but at the same time he acknowledges that each of his interviewees knew Coetzee in a particular way and that he wants to preserve their memories. At first, it may seem that Vincent is ceding too much when he agrees to omit certain stories, but the overall pattern of the testimony is so persuasive that eliminating this or that iteration of it hardly matters.

Is this novel a disguised autobiography? The question seems to be dismissed in Summertime when Vincent remarks that Coetzee was a “fictioneer”: “In his letters he is making up a fiction of himself for his correspondents; in his diaries he is doing much the same for his own eyes, or perhaps for posterity.” Such comments level the playing field on which biography and autobiography are the contestants. In effect, there is no unimpeachable standard of truth by which a biography can be found wanting. Thus the extracts from the fictive Coetzee’s notebooks do nothing to undermine the biographer’s work.

Summertime is that rare novel that grants biography its autonomy and treats the biographer as an independent agent, not a parasite or a hanger-on to someone else’s life. It is also a work of fiction that perhaps will break the mold Henry James cast for biography, one that has bedeviled its practitioners for more than a century.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780670021383
Subtitle:
Fiction
Author:
Coetzee, J. M.
Publisher:
Penguin Books
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Autobiographical fiction
Subject:
Authors
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Paperback / softback
Publication Date:
20101026
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Pages:
272
Dimensions:
8.54x6.52x.93 in. .86 lbs.
Age Level:
17-17

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Summertime Used Hardcover
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$10.95 In Stock
Product details 272 pages Viking Books - English 9780670021383 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

As a work shortlisted for the 2009 Booker Prize, much has already been made about Summertime. It is being billed as the third volume of Coetzee's autobiographical Scenes from Provincial Life (after Boyhood and Youth), yet is not mentioned as being such anywhere on the dust jacket or title page of the American edition. While the first two volumes were clear examples of creative nonfiction, Summertime is a work of fiction (however many autobiographical elements it may or may not contain).

The book begins from the premise that Coetzee himself has already passed away and an interviewer attempting to write a critical portrait of the author's life is left to track down surviving individuals who knew him best (colleagues, a former lover, a cousin). The main body of the book is comprised of five of these fictional interviews, and each portrays Coetzee as an altogether unremarkable, shy, emotionally stunted, and loveless man. Yet for those at all familiar with J. M. Coetzee's life, they will notice some obvious factual liberties employed in the writing of Summertime. For example, the Coetzee of the novel is without wife or children, yet in reality, Coetzee was once married and had both a son and a daughter (although his son was killed in an automobile accident in his early 20s).  Having read all of Coetzee's fiction, and much of his nonfiction, I was excited to read another autobiographical work in hopes of gaining further insight into this remarkable writer. Yet now, having had some time to reflect upon the book, it almost seems as if I know less about the Nobel laureate than I did before I began. I cannot help but think that this was, perhaps, Coetzee's goal all along.

"It would be very, very naive to conclude that because the theme was present in his writing it had to be present in his life," one of the fictional interviewees responds when questioned about how much they thought Coetzee's fiction reflected his real life.  Another offers, "He was just a man, a man of his time, talented, maybe even gifted, but, frankly, not a giant....from other people who knew him you will get a different picture, I am sure."  Coetzee, well known to be a private, if not reclusive, individual, attended neither of the Booker Prize banquets at which he was to receive his award. For a man who appears to value his privacy greatly, it would seem somewhat contradictory for him to write a traditional autobiography that dispels decades of rumors and speculative judgments. Hence, we are instead offered Summertime, described on the book's jacket as:

...an inventive and inspired work of fiction that allows J. M. Coetzee to imagine his own life with a critical and unsparing eye, revealing painful moral struggles and attempts to come to grips with what it means to care for another human being.

Perhaps what Coetzee was striving for with Summertime was not so much an autobiographical offering but an affront to those who doggedly pursue the personal details of a man who authors such convincing works. Maybe Summertime is merely an inside joke on Coetzee's behalf, insofar as rather than ignoring ongoing pleas for insight into his personal life, he instead serves up an account of his days commingling fact and fiction wherever he sees fit. By recasting his past in a fictitious future, one is left unable to determine where the threads of truth begin and the tangles of imagination end.

Whatever his intent, Summertime is another compelling, layered, richly imagined work by the great literary master. With a command of prose that borders on tactical precision, Coetzee, as always, employs pathos and refined morality to craft a story that is captivating, thought provoking, disquieting, and often humorous.  Summertime may confound or frustrate a few of Coetzee's more ardent followers, but only because they could not allow the story to be told as the storyteller himself intended.

Consider.  Here we have a man who, in the most intimate of human relations, cannot connect, or can connect only briefly, intermittently. Yet how does he make his living? He makes his living writing reports, expert reports, on intimate human experience. Because that is what novels are about — isn't it? — intimate experience. Novels as opposed to poetry or painting.  Doesn't that strike you as odd?

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Nobel laureate and two-time Booker-winner Coetzee has been shortlisted for the third time for this powerful novel, a semisequel to the fictionalized memoirs Boyhood and Youth that takes the form of a young biographer's interviews with colleagues of the late author John Coetzee. To Dr. Julia Frankl, who briefly sought in Coetzee deliverance from her husband, he was 'not fully human'; to his cousin, Margot Jonker, he is boring, ridiculous and misguided; and to Sophie Denol, an expert in African literature, Coetzee is an underwhelming writer with 'no original insight into the human condition.' The harshest characterization — and also the best of the interviews — comes from Adriana Nascimento, a Brazilian emigrant who met Coetzee when both were teachers in Cape Town; she was repulsed by the intellectual's attempts at courtship. 'He is nothing,' she says, 'was nothing... an embarrassment.' The biographer's efforts to describe his subject ultimately result in an examination that reaches through fiction and memoir to grasp what the traditional record leaves out." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Synopsis" by , This brilliant new work of fiction from the Nobel Prize-winning author of Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year allows Coetzee to imagine his own life, revealing painful moral struggles and attempts to come to grips with what it means to care for another human being.
"Synopsis" by ,
Shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize

A brilliant new work of fiction from the Nobel Prize-winning author of Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year

A young English biographer is researching a book about the late South African writer John Coetzee, focusing on Coetzee in his thirties, at a time when he was living in a rundown cottage in the Cape Town suburbs with his widowed father-a time, the biographer is convinced, when Coetzee was finding himself as a writer. Never having met the man himself, the biographer interviews five people who knew Coetzee well, including a married woman with whom he had an affair, his cousin Margot, and a Brazilian dancer whose daughter took English lessons with him. These accounts add up to an image of an awkward, reserved, and bookish young man who finds it hard to make meaningful connections with the people around him.

Summertime is an inventive and inspired work of fiction that allows J.M. Coetzee to imagine his own life with a critical and unsparing eye, revealing painful moral struggles and attempts to come to grips with what it means to care for another human being. Incisive, elegant, and often surprisingly funny, Summertime is a compelling work by one of today's most esteemed writers.

"Synopsis" by ,
"Not since Disgrace, has he written with such urgency and feeling." -The New Yorker

Nobel Prize-winning author J. M. Coetzee's new book follows a young biographer as he works on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. The biographer embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to Coetzee during the period when he was "finding his feet as a writer"-in his thirties and sharing a run-down cottage in the suburbs of Cape Town with his widowed father. Their testimonies create an image of an awkward, reserved, and bookish young man who finds it difficult to connect with the people around him. An innovative and inspired work of fiction-incisive, elegant, and often surprisingly funny- Summertime allows one of the most revered writers of our time to imagine his own life with a critical and unsparing eye.

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