Coetzee's latest novel (and it is one, in spite of all its formal games) puts the angry literary sage under scrutiny. Its narrator, "JC", shares traits with the flesh-and-blood writer, from Cape Town schooling to recent migration to Australia. Older, lonelier, gloomier, he sounds like a version of his creator on a bad day, or in a bad year.
Much of the book consists of JC's grumpily heretical essays, on topics ranging from Bush-Blair barbarisms to the "shame" of white South Africans. Meanwhile, underneath, a real story unfolds, of JC's bewitchment by a Filipina Australian in his block – a tale marked by all Coetzee's wintry, bleached-bone humour. Anya gives her own account (or maybe JC's fantasy?), so each page comes split into three levels. Perhaps only Coetzee could get away with such a false-bottomed box of fictive tricks.