Synopses & Reviews
A new work of fiction by the Nobel Prize-winning author of Disgrace
In this brilliant new work of fiction, J. M. Coetzee once again breaks new literary ground with a book that is, in the words of its main character, "a response to the present in which I find myself." Diary of a Bad Year takes on the world of politics a new topic for Coetzee and explores the role of the writer in our times with an extraordinary moral compass.
At the center of the book is "Señor C," an aging author who has been asked to write his thoughts on the state of the world by his German publisher. These thoughts, called "Strong Opinions," address a wide range of subjects and include a scathing indictment of Bush, Cheney, and Blair, as well as a witheringly honest examination of everything from Machiavelli and the current state of the university to music, literature, and intelligent design, offering unexpected perceptions and insightful arguments along the way.
Meanwhile, someone new enters the writer's life: Anya, the beautiful young woman whom he hires to type his manuscript. The relationship that develops between Señor C and Anya has a profound effect on both of them. It also changes the course of Anya's relationship with Alan, the successful, swaggering man whom she lives with and who has designs on Señor C's bank account.
Through these characters, Coetzee creates an ingenious literary game that will enthrall readers and surprise them with its emotional power. Bold, funny, and sad, as well as intellectually clever and satisfying, Diary of a Bad Year is a journey into the mind and heart of one of the world's most acclaimed and accomplished writers.
"Nobelist Coetzee's 19th book features a stand-in for himself: Señor 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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] brilliantly modulated convergence of divergent points of views....[Coetzee] is funny, relaxed, and excoriating in this shrewdly charming novel about deception and integrity, shame and dishonor, crime and punishment, beauty and kindness." Booklist
"There's something wrong with a novel in which a twisted, exploitative sexual relationship is far less interesting than are dozens of pages of discursive commentary. But that's the new, improved Coetzee for you. Maybe we should blame the Swedish Academy." Kirkus Reviews
"As Anya remarks, we've all got opinions, but if you tell a story at least people will shut up and listen to you. Nobel prize winner Coetzee's thought-provoking and cerebral novel is recommended." Library Journal
"J. M. Coetzee's novel Diary of a Bad Year is something of a self-managed funeral, but a lavish one: mordant, funny and wise....'Why should not old men be mad?' Yeats wrote. In his comic, witty and compassionate novel Mr. Coetzee tells us why not." Richard Eder, The New York Times
"The elements are so compelling...that it's not easy to pin down precisely why they don't come together as a whole....Diary of a Bad Year, for all its careful craft, draws us in just to put us off again. You can hear Coetzee's unmistakable voice, but this time around you may have trouble overhearing it." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Contemporizing and extemporizing in ways that make Diary of a Bad Year feel very unlike a novel and more like diffuse commentary, Coetzee has created a clever superstructure filled with philosophical self-interrogation on questions of political, artistic and erotic moralities." Los Angeles Times
"This novel's fall from the grace of a purely imagined world is a matter of self-conscious nakedness, of insisting we see undisguised rhetorical tricks we might prefer cloaked with artifice." Kathryn Harrison, The New York Times Book Review
"[T]here is some sense in which reading this book may be as close to a personal conversation with J. M. Coetzee as any of us is likely to get....Taken together, these essays create a compelling, even lovable, portrait of a chilly and curmudgeonly aging writer." Claire Messud, The Boston Globe
"The essays become a bit tedious; the political opinions offer few insights into contemporary topics that haven't already been voiced around the world....The contrast of the forms helps to keep the pace moving and breathes life into the slow sections." Rocky Mountain News
"Diary of a Bad Year is a loud book, filled with both verve for life and the enervating prospect of death. It's one of his more approachable reads, and it is a mark of Coetzee's talent that he is able to enmesh the philistine with the profound with such enviable ease." Chicago Sun-Times
"Contemporizing and extemporizing in ways that make Diary of a Bad Year
feel very unlike a novel and more like diffuse commentary, Coetzee has created a clever superstructure filled with philosophical self-interrogation on questions of political, artistic and erotic moralities. The sense of moral absolutism that raises its head consistently...is nothing that readers of Elizabeth Costello
or the more recent Slow Man
will find surprising..." Art Winslow, Los Angeles Times
(read the entire Los Angeles Times review
The latest by the Nobel Prize-winning author of Disgrace is an utterly contemporary work of fiction that addresses the profound unease of countless people in democracies across the world.
An ingenious new work of fiction from the Nobel Prize? winning author of Disgrace
J . M. Coetzee once again breaks literary ground with Diary of a Bad Year, a book that is, in the words of its protagonist, ?a response to the present in which I find myself.? Aging author Senor C has been commissioned to write a series of essays entitled ?Strong Opinions,? of which he has many. After hiring a beautiful young typist named Anya, the two embark on a relationship that will have a profound impact on them both? especially when Alan, Anya?s no-good boyfriend, develops designs on Senor C?s bank account. Told in these three voices simultaneously, Coetzee has created any entirely new way of telling a story, and nothing less than an ?involving, argumentative, moving novel? (The New Yorker).
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.