Diary of a Bad Year, By JM Coetzee

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

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.