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Elizabeth Costello

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  7,706 ratings  ·  698 reviews
Since 1982, J. M. Coetzee has been dazzling the literary world. After eight novels that have won, among other awards, two Booker Prizes, and most recently, the Nobel Prize for literature, J.M. Coetzee has once again crafted an unusual and deeply affecting tale. Told through an ingenious series of formal addresses, Elizabeth Costello is, on the surface, the story of a woman ...more
Paperback, 231 pages
Published October 26th 2004 by Vintage (first published August 28th 2001)
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Average rating 3.43  · 
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 ·  7,706 ratings  ·  698 reviews

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Jun 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
It becomes increasingly difficult to achieve originality after everything has been done (& then over and over overdone). I cannot help but compare this masterpiece (I love using that word, but it must be noted that only a select few books are labeled by me as such) to the Pulitzer-winning "Olive Kitteridge." Because it is the author's intent to sieve through snippets of the titular character's life to reach an essence, an aura, making the fictional person practically real, they are quite compara ...more
Sidharth Vardhan
Elizabeth Costello is Coetzee's alter ego. And for most of the book, she is giving her opinions on different subjects- realism, women's voice in novels, violence against animals, African novel, Humanity's future - a study in Christ's cross vs Mary's breasts (Mary's breasts won), nature of evil, the impact a book on an evil subject can have on people, mechanics involved when Gods had sex with humans (I like the way this woman thinks) etc. S0me of these are given as lectures, the content of which ...more
It's not often that I come across an author who summarizes my views on several trying quandaries in one teeny 230 page novel. It was, to me, life changing. This is not a book you should approach without some sort of foreknowledge about the subject matter or about Coetzee himself. "A steely intellect" they say, and it is true. So steely that it can be trying at times. That is why some sort of mental preparation is required. It is written in almost an essay format, switching from internal points o ...more
Mar 10, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: south-african
I am beyond time's envious grasp, our eponymous character says in this book, and I know what she means, some evenings I feel it; but we don't talk like that that around here. We talk, too, about not eating meat, but we don't bring Kafka into the discussion. We tell stories about humans, but not Humanity, and certainly not the Humanities.

Elizabeth Costello, in this book, is an old woman, and a writer. She would define herself as a writer. Yet in this book she does not write. She lectures, to audi
JM Coetzee has been dazzling the world at large with his literary genius since 1982. JM Coetzee has been baffling me with his books since last year when i first started reading them. The bafflement continues with Elizabeth Costello. Now the literary world says that all sorts of clever things are happening in this book - philosophy, re-engaging with great modern texts on a different level and also the debate in each chapter of a contentious modern issues including animal rights, sexual identity, ...more
Feb 26, 2009 rated it did not like it
I'm not entirely sure what my thoughts on this book really are, other than that I didn't particularly enjoy it.

It doesn't really feel like a novel, instead at times more like a particularly pompous academic paper, or an exercise in technique. It is filled with monologues - external in the earlier part, and internal in the latter, all of which revolve around ideas or philosophies. The protagonist barely interacts with others other than speaking at them through her speeches at conferences, and thr
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Serial Intertextuality

I decided to read this novel, because it’s referred to in Lance Olsen's novel, “Anxious Pleasures". Both novels feature intertextuality. “Elizabeth Costello" in turn refers to Franz Kafka's story, “A Report to An Academy", which is narrated by Red Peter, an ape that/who has transformed into a human. Elizabeth, herself a novelist, has written a novel called "The House on Eccles Street" (1969), whose main character is Marion [Molly] Bloom, wife of Leopold Bloom, the princ
Stephen P
Aug 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: re-read
A re-read. 3.5-4.0

I have to do a lot of thinking about whether it is worth doing another review.

So good for that! At 2:30 this morning I realized I had to write about this book to understand what, it has meant to me.

A solid 4 stars.

A damming take down of the intellect, the intellectual. Poor bereft Elizabeth Costello,aged and aging. Alienated from her children, her sister, her intellect which she has depended upon through life; a life raft which can be grasped but as years pass the tether slips
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
2 stars - I don't know what the hell this is or supposed to be

It started off well... I thought this will be about an ageing female writer, her struggles with ageing, role in society, the writing world etc

I'm not sure what this was about... As time went on, it got more and more incomprehensible to me, I couldn't quite understand that the heck Elizabeth Costello was going on about in her many talks, dissertations, lectures. Was her mind unravelling? Is Elizabeth Costello just a receptacle for Coe
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Sep 27, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2012
An internationally respected Australian writer in her mid-sixties, Elizabeth Costello is known primarily for her fourth book, The House on Eccles Street, in which she took a minor character from Joyce's Ulysses, Marion Bloom, and created the kind of novel people are still talking about today. That novel was published nearly thirty years ago; now it's 1995 and Elizabeth Costello has arrived in Pennsylvania to accept the Stowe Award, worth $50,000, from Altona College. Her son John, a physics and ...more
Dec 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Directly upon finishing Elizabeth Costello, I was ready to concede that I didn't know what the heck I had just read. The book had a tangible emotional impact on me, but I was at a loss to explain what Coetzee was after, what his meaning was. I was at the point of assigning this to the pile of the unfathomable, but there was one thing I wished to pursue first. This pursuit, which cost me a mere couple of hours, retrieved the book for me and provided a structure and meaning that I had initially mi ...more
Nov 17, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I just can't get into this book, Yes J.M. Coetzee can write well but so what, this book just comes of as smug and elitist, none of the charactors are remotely likeable, and the story if there is even one is about a writer that goes around and talks about writing, the state of writing in today's world, blah, blah,fucking, blah. This is a literature essay masquerading as an important work of fiction.I hate this fucking book!

Apr 09, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The lecture as a species of the novel? And this academic invasion works? I've read two novels of this kind. One was this novel by J. M. Coetzee, constructed out of its novelist character's lectures which were, in large part, transcribed verbatim in the text. The other was Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas

Some sections of Elizabeth Costello's lectures were paraphrased, other "extraneous" writings or events in the book were merely glossed over, dismissed with a stylistic flourish. Here'
Feb 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: african-fiction
BLECH. As if Elizabeth Costello wasn't unlikable enough, with her mopey, childishly selfish late life "Oh, it's hard to be a respected writer" angst, Coetzee also puts her in this really blase framework where she basically pontificates at her audience, and by extension, us the readers. This wouldn't be such a problem, and her dogged critiques of rationalism/the enlightenment/carnivores could be palatable (could in fact be quite devastating), if it wasn't for the fact that they come across as the ...more
Alyson Hagy
Feb 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a re-read for me. My first time through (soon after publication) I remember being mystified. I struggled with Elizabeth Costello as a main character and Coetzee's "talky" approach to her life as a writer. This time through my reaction is much different. This is a novel of ideas; Coetzee states that from the first. And the ideas--the knottiness of them, the weight they cast upon EC in the waning years of her life--were of great interest to me. I, too, am aging, and questions regarding the ...more
Robert Wechsler
Mar 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: australasian-lit
An intellectual potboiler. A series of fictionalized essays, it̕s a great accomplishment, the book of Coetzee̕s that grabbed me the most and never let me go, even though it had all the possibility of being inconsistent, considering that its essays are related not by ideas, but by characters.

It wasn̕t so much the topics that interested me -- realism (hardly at all), the African novel (somewhat), animal rights (to an extent), the problem of evil (yes and no), eros (of course), and what follows dea
Jul 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: good-enough
Here's a book that resists, or at least can often appear to resist a single and supreme interpretation. Ambiguity - I'm in. My take on what is happening through what is mostly a series of speech-giving events (each more or less one part intriguing philosophical debate, one part silly human bickering) is that the book is a sort of delineation on the sad complexity that is aging as a novelist/intellectual, our protagonist Elizabeth Costello. Concurrently with the freedom of 'not giving a fuck,' is ...more
Roger Whitson
Sep 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: new-fiction
For the most part, Coetzee's novel is great at attempting to understand the Australian novelist in a moment of globalization. Coetzee structures his novel as a series of lectures, each detailing an aged writer's increasing non-relevance to an English Department that is becoming more and more formulaic. The last chapter and the postscript were abit of a mystery to me. It seems that Coetzee sometimes wants to throw in a little postmodern sensibility to his novels even when such a disposition doesn ...more
Feb 18, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2009
I've come to one of those rare moments when finishing a novel when I know that I'm about to deeply offend somebody with my review. To those individuals I appologise, please except that it is probably in ignorance that I do so. However, this is my review.
I feel this book should be great, especially as I read it because it is on the 1000 books to read before you die lists (or something similiar). I took to the book as a novel however, and do not feel it fits this role. Perhaps it should have a pre
A though book to review unless you decide to read it.

4* Disgrace
4* Waiting for the Barbarians
3* A Ilha
4* The Master of Petersburg
3* Slow Man
3* Elizabeth Costello
TR Dusklands
TR Youth
TR Boyhood
TR Life and Times of Michael K
TR Summertime
TR The Schooldays of Jesus
Sep 10, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: philosophy nuts
Oh, Elizabeth Costello, there were so many things I liked about your book: your struggle to figure out what you believe in, how you distastefully equated the Holocaust with the human desire to kill and eat animals, how poorly you treated your children.

But man. Could you have spiced up the dialog just a little?

The cover of "Elizabeth Costello" promises to reveal that character of this fictional writer through a series of speeches and dialogs. Some -- particularly the TWO very awkward speeches she
musa b-n
Oct 10, 2017 rated it did not like it
I read this book for class and I have to write an Actual review for it, but in the meantime - I really did not enjoy this book. I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt for the longest time, but it really didn't deserve it. It was boring and entirely too metatextual in clichéd and uninteresting ways. The characters were less than unsympathetic, but just watery, like bad oatmeal. It was made entirely too clear by the End that the author's Point was that writing cannot be about communicating be ...more
Jul 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
Coetzee is like that douchey guy in seminar who is always interrupting people to say, “Okay, but let me play devil’s advocate here for a minute...” No. Stop. Go away, and quit writing novels that feel weirdly rapey even when nobody in them is having sex.
Andre Pawney
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have only one question when it comes to this book: What does it NOT tackle? In the brevity of approximately 200 pages, Coetzee is able to refer to the following:
-- ethical treatment of animals and humans with reference to the Holocaust
-- war and post-war trauma
-- the issue of ethnicity, blackness, and black literature
-- the author's battle with his text in order to remain 'alive', not letting it sublimate him
-- questions regarding canonicity
-- the anxiety of influence
-- a plethora of intertext
May 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very interesting book. On the border of being pretentious and insightful. I lean towards the latter, but I can’t ignore the former.
Apr 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Guy by: TR
This was a brilliant surprise. I've managed to hide myself under a rock, the last decade or so, and generally haven't attended the 'big' and 'famous' writers. Tim recommended it because he laughed at how critical the narrator, Costello, is of generally accepted standards of literary discourse and the general zeitgeist of the humanities. I confess to laughing with pleasure, too, because Coetzee articulates through Costello some of the criticisms I've expressed about the intellectual state of univ ...more
Mar 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I'm reading this for a guest lecture later this week and I LOVE it! I have read a few others by Coetzee, trying to keep up with the Nobels and all, and find him interesting, but I haven't really loved a book of his bc they tend to be narrated so coldly. Which is part of his point, of course. Complex politics, writing about white experiences in South Africa, etc. So they are all quite conceptual, which of course I love but, you know, not always in that special I'll-give-up-sleeping-to-finish-this ...more
Kevin Lawrence
I vaguely remember years ago reading Waiting for the Barbarians as a sort of graduate school exercise to get a quick overview of writing in Africa; I remember it as a sort of dusty but thoughtful allegory of 20th century society that I appreciated having read and came away with a respectful opinion of Coetzee. Similarly, I very much enjoyed Elizabeth Costello – it’s a novel full of ideas and very provocative statements on topics that range from animal rights to the state of the humanities to the ...more
Pickle Farmer
Feb 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
I really respect what this book was trying to do and it is definitely provocative and filled with fascinating, rich ideas. That being said, it was a giant pain in the ass to read. You basically need to take a breath at the end of each chapter and brace yourself for another lecture. Obviously Coetzee is a smart guy and would be perfectly aware of this effect on readers. It's interesting to consider that this is his follow-up book to the Booker Prize-winning "Disgrace." It's hard not to feel like ...more
Justin Evans
Mar 04, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I read this just after it came out, and was pretty disappointed. Having just given it another go... I'm still disappointed. The blurbs are surely ironic: "One of Coetzee's best... an important book, extraordinary... every word counts. Every sentence lives... bracing." It is self-evidently Coetzee's worst, dull, unimportant, pointless. Only a psychologiser of authors could care about this quaquaquaqua novel, though if you're a philosopher you may get something out of the new Coetzee industry, see ...more
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Reading 1001: Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee 2 13 Jan 31, 2018 07:28AM  
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Coetzee's Novels 1 29 Feb 14, 2014 06:53PM  

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John Maxwell Coetzee is an author and academic from South Africa. He became an Australian citizen in 2006 after relocating there in 2002. A novelist and literary critic as well as a translator, Coetzee has won the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature.

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“There is no position outside of reason where you can stand and lecture about reason and pass judgment on reason.” 9 likes
“It’s that I no longer know where I am. I seem to move around perfectly easily among people, to have perfectly normal relations with them. Is it possible, I ask myself, that all of them are participants in a crime of stupefying proportions? Am I fantasizing it all? I must be mad! Yet every day I see the evidences. The very people I suspect produce the evidence, exhibit it, offer it to me. Corpses. Fragments of corpses that they have bought for money.

It is as if I were to visit friends, and to make some polite remark about the lamp in their living room, and they were to say, “Yes, it’s nice, isn’t it? Polish-Jewish skin it’s made of, we find that’s best, the skins of young Polish-Jewish virgins.” And then I go to the bathroom and the soap wrapper says, “Treblinka – 100% human stereate.” Am I dreaming, I say to myself? What kind of house is this?

Yet I’m not dreaming. I look into your eyes, into Norma’s, into the children’s, and I see only kindness, human kindness. Calm down, I tell myself, you are making a mountain out of a molehill. This is life. Everyone else comes to terms with it, why can't you? Why can't you?
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