C.'s Reviews > Life and Times of Michael K

Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee
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's review
Mar 14, 09

bookshelves: 2009
Recommended to C. by: Most of goodreads
Read in March, 2009, read count: 1

Huh.

The prose was detached and lifeless, as I have come to expect from Coetzee. Which leaves you cold and alone. In the rain, outside on the deserted street gazing at the lighted windows of the stalinesque apartment buildings across the road. And inside you there's this dull ache of hollowness that is where the prose would be if it was there. And because you are so empty there is a sort of lack that swells and swells until it fills you whole and spills over into your thoughts and your actions. And this is depression and as you read it emanates from your very pores until you and the book are enveloped in it like a halo of light the colour of the outside of the universe.

So that was good. I always like a book that makes me feel that way. Because here is a man who is alone, more alone than I have ever been and no one cares. Because here's the thing. I have a family and I have friends and if somehing happens to me they care. And I have this government that would give me money if I had none. And when I was sick I got the best medical care around, and it was free, because there's this attitude here that I matter and that everyone matters enough to deserve the same. And then there is Michael K, who doesn't matter to anyone, and all he wants to do is be left alone, but the establishment can't even do that. They have to take him and do things to him even though he can be of no conceivable use to them or anyone else. And he turns away from anyone who could help him and who wants to help him. And that was really good. By which I mean it was brilliantly portrayed and hopelessly moving.

But then we get to part the third and suddenly the thing turns into this pathetic Coelho-esque excuse for a book. And it's full of patronising, pseudo-philosophical drivel that doesn't mean a thing. And the prose loses its beautiful detachment and becomes airy and pretty and floaty and suddenly I'm not liking it nearly so much any more. So I give it five stars for the first part and two point five for the last part, which I somehow average out to make four.

___________________________________

No, I probably shouldn't have borrowed this. But I just joined a new library today and it was sitting there, looking so small and cute and just crying out to be taken to a good home! And it's thin, right, and I can keep it for three whole weeks, right, so I should have plenty of time to read a maths textbook, right, finish off my modern and contemporary literature booklist and read me some Brigade Mondaine before school starts next Monday, right? Right.

And I really would have liked to have joined in the Coetzee-fest when it was actually on. But at that time I had self-discipline. And there were no Coetzee books in the public library.
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Reading Progress

03/05/2009 page 30
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Comments (showing 1-26 of 26) (26 new)

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Jessica oh but you'll like it green girl. good choice.


message 2: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben I wanna read this soon too! Oh, how I wish your sexy green ass lived in America!


Jessica oh you guys, get on it already!
;-)


message 4: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Choupette, plan a trip to America! Who cares what you look like (green or not), you seem awesome and need to come!


Jessica Ben dear, was it not Greenland to which you would journey? Or is a pitstop in the ole USofA needed first?
well, as it turns out, I am planning a GR meet-up for some friends in NYC in April or May--shall I invite you both and hope for the best?
;-)


message 6: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Yes! We can head straight to Greenland from NY.. perfect!

And thank you : )


message 7: by Jessica (last edited Mar 07, 2009 03:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jessica Great. You & GG will be hearing from me soon!
(that's not a threat, btw)


message 8: by C. (new) - rated it 4 stars

C. Well sure, if someone wants to sponsor me to come. But alas I am but a poor student, scrabbling in the dust of society to pay my rent.


Jessica Bendear: time to get on those bake sales, garage sales and the like~!


message 10: by C. (new) - rated it 4 stars

C. OR you could all just come to Melbourne!


Jessica well, NYC's a little more affordable....(a train ride for me).
HOWEVER, we will promise to start saving for next year!!!


message 12: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben You should set something up for Orlando sometime, Jessica: Can't beat ole' Mickey Mouse.... plus it's just a 35 minute drive for me.


Jessica you're gonna have to be the one to set that up Ben!
;-)

I only do (as in setting up) nearby-ones, so...
April 24,25, 26...
(more info to follow.)


message 14: by Manny (new)

Manny Nice to hear a dissident voice!


message 15: by C. (new) - rated it 4 stars

C. I'm not totally alone... Paul Bryant shares at least some of my views.


message 16: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Almost 99% of them. I could have written your review and you mine. If we were the other way round, that is. Which we are - drill a hole directly under my feet here in England and if you keep drilling long enough Choupette will fall in it.


Mike                                              I somehow missed Paul and Choupette's strong reviews when they first blew up on the scene, so forgive a late reply. But I'd quibble with your reading of the third section -- you might still quite reasonably find it insufferable, but I wouldn't take it as serious. Coetzee is, as C notes very well above, prone to detachment; that detachment often takes the form of literary games which distance, undercut, disrupt his narratives. I think the good Doctor here is meant to be *exactly* that Coelhoesque empty humanist. I think Coetzee is enormously skeptical of the liberal vision of empathy and tolerance and all that -- such a vision, even as it means well for the afflicted others who are its object, still resolutely keeps them "other". We consume tales of woe, wring our hands, wax poetic about poverty and injustice, our hearts bleeding for folks like Michael K... but our compassion is, in some ways, complicit in keeping the system the way it is. I think he was slapping at the liberal (read English-speaking) South Africans who hated the horrors of apartheid yet tended to be better at channeling their indignant repulsion than at changing circumstances which afflicted folks. So ... I think you can hate that last section for disrupting a rather brilliant and harrowing account with pomo irony, but I don't think it's sincerely schmaltzy or philosophical.


Jessica YEAH! What Mike said.


message 19: by Chris (new)

Chris Goddamn, Mike! I wish I could vote for individual posts.


Jessica I wish I could vote for individual posters. I'd vote for Mike Reynolds early and often!


Jessica nice post, Mike.


message 22: by Paul (last edited Jul 10, 2009 06:57AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Hey Mike, that's a pretty good line of defence, but I confess it's like telling me that "Imagine" is a great song because it's heart is in the right place - it still sets my teeth on edge, and my spleen and other inner organs, and I growl and gnash my teeth and attempt to flee. Fine satire the last third of this book MAY be - I can't say, because he keeps a completely deadpan face on throughout it, so it may be straight or it may be satire - but if it makes you want to feed your copy to a friendly vat of sulphuric acid, maybe it should have been written differently. For me, anyhow. Clearly not for you & Doctor D. But really, what about the blowjob on the beach? Just a little over the top?


Mike                                              Nah, I hear you, Paul. I assume it's just a different reason to hate, rather than a rationale to love. But "Imagine" is a great song.


message 24: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Noooooo..................

Imagine no "Imagine"
It's easy if you try
No reason to worry if distant family members will insist on playing it at your funeral
When the time comes to die


message 25: by C. (new) - rated it 4 stars

C. Hmm, interesting.


Trevor "But then we get to part the third and suddenly the thing turns into this pathetic Coelho-esque excuse for a book. And it's full of patronising, pseudo-philosophical drivel that doesn't mean a thing. And the prose loses its beautiful detachment and becomes airy and pretty and floaty and suddenly I'm not liking it nearly so much any more. So I give it five stars for the first part and two point five for the last part, which I somehow average out to make four."

I must have read this review at some stage - as I've clicked that I liked it - but I've only just read this book and I really couldn't agree more with your quote above. Off to read Paul's review now.


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