Saturday, March 8, 2008

BOOK: Life and Times of Michael K by JM Coetzee

Life and Times of Michael K by JM Coetzee

Booker Winner 1983; Book Awards Challenge; Eponymous Challenge

Oh dear. I tried Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello last year and I didn't get it at all. I had to look up reviews to get any understanding of the novel, and most of the reviews implied it was confusing, hard to understand, and too abstract, even for Coetzee. So I felt I should give Coetzee one more try and while this wasn't as bad as Elizabeth Costello, I still didn't get it. I haven't looked anything up yet because I don't think books should be that hard. I am looking forward to the discussion at the yahoo book awards group to figure out the meaning of this book. I'll save some of my complaints for that discussion as well. The only thing it had going for it was that it was under 200 pages. I may not have finished it otherwise.

The book is broken into three sections - the first tells of Michael's life and those 126 pages had no breaks, not even an extra space anywhere. Michael was born with a hare lip, put in an institution, released, became a gardener, quit to look after his mother, escaped Cape Town without his papers during a civil war, his mother died, he is captured and spends some time on a work gang, escapes, finds a deserted farm to live on, grows some vegetables, is captured again. Part two is narrated by a doctor in the work camp and was the part I enjoyed the most as it seemed to make the most sense. Part three is Michael's escape and life back in Cape Town.

If this book is about 'the need for an interior spiritual life; for some connections to the world in which we live; and for purity of vision' as the front inside cover states, I didn't really get that. I think A Prayer for Owen Meany might have covered the same basic theme, but I enjoyed that process much better.

To be fair, I'm not into difficult books, and many people find him a wonderful writer, worth the effort to read. He's won many awards, including the Nobel prize, and this is a Man Booker winner, but I need more story in my books. To read reviews of people who liked the book, I've linked to some more eloquent writers who also appreciate Coetzee more than I do.

3m's review

caribousmom's review


  1. Thanks for the link to my review :) I'm sorry you didn't like the book - but, I completely understand how some readers dislike Coetzee's work. It is largely symbolic, and I think his writing is difficult to read. I can't read book after book of his - when I'm done with one of his works, I feel like I need something light and airy and easy to understand! I *do* think it helps to discuss his work as part of a group; I always seem to get more out of the story after talking about it with other readers.

  2. wendy - thanks for the comment. I am looking forward to the group discussion. If I know what the symbolism is, it does help to understand.


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