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Word Count: 1,145
Portrait of the artist as a callow youth YouthJM Coetzee 169pp Secker Disgrace JM Coetzees last novel set a contemporary benchmark in good fiction Quite apart from winning him a second Booker it had an icy brilliance that showed up the work of other novelists peers and young pretenders alike By comparison many of us seem at best technically defective at worst expressive of literary values he might consider pure philistinism Although the excuse was given of a prior engagement the authors non-appearance at the Booker ceremony only served to illustrate the point This was not a man who played the game If the game includes being nice to your fans then tough Sharing a panel with Coetzee at a reading I remember him responding to a question from the audience with the words frankly no Further explanation was not forthcoming There was an embarrassed silence Admittedly it was a rather stupid question but one felt he might have been a little more generous Then again the frank no the refusal to allow himself or his readers to be under illusions is the flip side of Coetzees unflinching gaze the reason why his novels like a good dose of salts are a necessary purgative to be prized rather than dreaded His wary governance against comfort against the slide into complacent thinking and language can never prevent the readers own But that it might do so is the one illusion a Coetzee novel permits us At the same time the feeling remains that he has every gift except tenderness The search for tenderness it turns out is the subject of this new novella Youth which seems very much a portrait of the artist as a young man Tenderness and heart and passion these sometimes contradictory qualities are what its narrator John hopes for One might think them the opposite of the frigidity of which John Coetzee is sometimes accused One might even think the problem
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