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(Scenes from Provincial Life #3)

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  5,516 ratings  ·  540 reviews
Summertime is an inventive and inspired work of fiction that allows J.M. Coetzee to imagine his own life with a critical and unsparing eye, revealing painful moral struggles and attempts to come to grips with what it means to care for another human being.

A young English biographer is researching a book about the late South African writer John Coetzee, focusing on Coetzee i
Hardcover, 266 pages
Published August 13th 2009 by Harvill Secker (first published 2009)
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Average rating 3.78  · 
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Ahmad Sharabiani
Summertime (Scenes from Provincial Life #3), J.M. Coetzee

Summertime is a 2009 novel by South African-born Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee. It is the third in a series of fictionalized memoirs by Coetzee and details the life of one John Coetzee from the perspective of five people who have known him.

The novel largely takes place in the mid to late 1970's, largely in Cape Town, although there are also important scenes in more remote South African settings. While there are obvious similarities between
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
16 February 2020
HE WISHES he had written this book himself. What he doesn't quite understand is how Coetzee managed to turned a life so ordinary into something so extraordinary.

How much of it is indeed fiction? In writing such a book, will he have to detail his every transgression, or would he just make it up?

To be expanded on: why would a fictional indiscretion be so much more tolerable, when in a book like this and in the eyes of a reader there will be no distinction?.
Mar 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The halo effect perfected to exquisite levels in "Elizabeth Costello" is once again employed to similar effect here. But this time, the writer's own persona is the protagonist-non grata. What is left behind is what's compiled in this magnificent (but flawed) work--another dynamite narrative by another dynamite author, about racism in latter-20th century South Africa. In this instance, people (women, mostly) are interviewed, their experience with John Coetzee explored. These tales are tragicomic, ...more
Sep 26, 2009 rated it liked it
late at night, absent people or drink, when it rages out in furnace fear, i think of you and whether it be simply that misery loves company or even though we do die alone, you remind me that we all do it so at least we're all connected in our aloneness -- your life and your words in some tiny tiny tiny way lessen the burden of existence. as with my dog, i know that you will most likely die long before i do and it kind of makes me want to eat the shotgun knowing i'll be living in a world without ...more

Admittedly I haven’t read the first two books of this fictionalised biography (auto-biography?) of a young man growing up in South Africa, Boyhood and Youth. I also haven’t read Disgrace, which won the Man Booker Prize in 1999 and sounds a lot like the story of the ‘late John Coetzee’ of this book – a professor leading a passionless life until he has an affair with a student (so says the blurb). The John of this book is also a Nobel Prize winner for literature, as is J.M.

Even without those
I read this one because it was the shortest book I had left on the to-read shelf while waiting for the next part of my Booker longlist order to arrive. I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed it - I have read a lot of Coetzee and this is one of his wittiest, not least because his portrait of himself in the 70s refracted by an imaginary biographer and five interviewees is not a flattering one.

The five witnesses are bookended by two sets of notebook extracts (I am not sure whether these are rea
Sidharth Vardhan
Of all the three in series 'Scenes from a Provincial life', this was the one I had highest hopes from. Because this was the book that would relate to the period in his life when he was actually writing novels - and so, closer or in the period of his greatness. It was disappointing - because author actually increased the distance from his person by trying to see himself from point of view of other people.

The diary entries in the begining and the end might be truthful but the interviews in the mi
Mar 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
It has been a very long time since I read something that original... The premise of the book is so unusually incisive, so creative in itself... Coetzee writes his own biography, post his fictive death, as strung together through his notebooks and the interviews of some of his contemporaries.
Behind the dry humor and subtle self-deprecation, there are some very serious underlying themes, mostly pertaining to life in South Africa in the 70's, Afrikaners, natives, Apartheid etc... but also dealing w
Dec 03, 2014 rated it liked it
What an odd book. The author writes it as though he is someone else writing his biography after his death. Parts of it were very strange and parts of it were hard to understand. As someone who was living in South Africa in the late 70's I really enjoyed the African references and being able to practice the little Afrikaans I still remember. Apart from that though I guess I was not really enamoured of the book although I feel encouraged to maybe try another of his books in the near future.
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Apparently this is the third of a type of trilogy. I did not know that. I bought it because it was short. Sorry, John. I was on vacation at the beach. It was called Summertime. It was available in paperback and I was low on cash. What I got when I began to read was infinitely more. There are some books that affect us so deeply the $15.00 price seems ludicrous.

Admittedly, I am a lousy fan. There are few authors whose complete works I’ve read, no matter how much I admire their writing. Fewer stil
Vestal McIntyre
After Boyhood and Youth, I expected another searing self-portrait told in calm and beautifully measured third-person. What I got is autobiography in quite a revolutionary form: the women who knew Coetzee in his early thirties are interviewed about the now-dead author. Utterly engaging, filled with awkward intimacy and painful slip-ups, Summertime is the best book in the trilogy, the best book I've read in a year.

Another interesting aspect of the book: so many "greats" have written their portrait
St Peter's and St Paul's Parish Church, Lavenham, book sale

Here is Coetzee writing as if Coetzee is dead and now Vincent is asking around to find out about people's feelings about the dead man.

Height of self-indulgent conceit? Well yes, only this is fiction and there is a lot revealed about South Africa in the 70s.

Sound confusing? It isn't, really not. I did take breathers in between the sections to mull over the underlying story of a country and attitude in change.

4* Waiting for the Barbarians
Carl Rollyson
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Novelists enjoy taking revenge on biographers. A typical example of this phenomenon is William Golding’s The Paper Men (1984), in which a biographer is featured as a snoop digging through his subject’s kitchen pail. Only in rare instances do biographers not come off as second-raters and sensationalists, as in Bernard Malamud’s Dubin’s Lives (1979). But no writer of distinction has definitively challenged the line Henry James laid down in The Aspern Papers (1888), where the biographer is dismisse ...more
Mar 08, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I normally write a review the day after I've finished a book, long enough to coalesce my thoughts, short enough for it not to feel nagging. Because I read this for a group read and felt so lukewarm (is that an oxymoron?) about it, I put off the review, hoping I would get more out of the book after the discussion. That didn't happen.

I don't usually say 'how' I wish a book to be, as I don't usually think it's my place as reader to do so; but I can't help feeling with this one that I wish Coetzee h
Feb 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: australian, own-copy
This novel started off with a lot of promise, but as it progressed the story disintegrated and became very piecemeal and lacking as a complete narrative.

The premise of telling the biography of the fictional(?) novelist John Coetzee from different perspective was an interesting one, but from my perspective was in the end unsuccessful and confusing, in particular the section told from Adriana's perspective.

I'm still not sure hpw much of the novel is fiction or fact, perhaps this is the feeling tha
Mar 31, 2010 rated it liked it
Review 1 of 1: Stephanie

You've had the chance to read the book 'Summertime.' What did you think of it?

Honestly, not much. I think it either went totally over my head or I just didn't like the anemic tone. And I didn't feel that the "inventive" storytelling worked. The author was trying to give an objective viewpoint about his life as a young man (warts and all) in South Africa in the 70s, but it's not objective and it's not, to me, great writing.

He is, in fact, a Nobel prize winner in literature
Jason Coleman
Feb 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: greatest-hits
Coetzee's Scenes from a Provincial Life is turning into one of the weirdest memoir projects ever. Apart from his decision to mix fiction with fact, and the obvious confusion over what is true and what isn't, there is also the public-humiliation aspect of these books. Coetzee really knows how to take himself down a peg: in this latest installment he can't fix a car, can't dance, can't cook, is a poor lover (and, worse, a strange one), has a messy house, a bad haircut, and persists in a teaching c ...more
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
Summertime by J.M. Coetzee is labeled "fiction," not "a novel," or "a collection of autobiographical investigations disguised as a story cycle," or some other generic propositon. Just "fiction."

Ok, it goes this way: there is a biographer, an academic, who goes through the deceased John Coetzee's notebooks and focuses a lot of effort on five extended interviews with four women and one man who were important in Coetzee's life. Two of the women were sexually involved with him; one was a cousin; on
Dec 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, lit-fiction
This is the most thinly disguised autobiographical fiction I have ever read. In fact I would hesitate to call it fiction at all. The only fictional element seems to be that Coetzee is suppposedly dead in this "novel".Still makes for interesting reading though. And he doesn't paint a very flattering picture of himself. I'll have to read Boyhood and Youth now, which are his other two autobiographical novels.
Aug 29, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Mr. Coetzee, how many more books will it take to forgive yourself the original sin of your birth?

(Man, do I love short books, I'm incredibly fucking lazy, just spit it out already. Coetzee understands that!)
Nancy Oakes
Sep 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing

The premise of Summertime is that award-winning writer John Coetzee is dead, and someone named Vincent is writing a book about his life in the 1970s. Vincent has decided to interview several women purportedly close to Coetzee, wanting to know what he was like, if there were any sordid details to be had, etc. etc. The book, he says, will be written in the women's own words and they will have the final say in what he actually publishes. But this is not the case; for example, we know that the John
This curious, sly and rather ruthless quasi-autobiography is the 3rd volume of Scenes From a Provincial life. The purist in me almost put it away, for I have not read these. But it was the first day after the summer solstice, and that little synchronicity nailed it. I went ahead and immediately was pulled in to South Africa, the dusty streets,the random violence,the winding down of a rotten system and Nelson Mandela still in prison.

But this is not a straightforward story to illustrate the great
Nov 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'll be honest: I haven't cared much for Coetzee's work in the last ten years or so. I've been of the opinion that he peaked with Disgrace; his recent novels have been filled with intrusive and barely-veiled author surrogates (especially Elizabeth Costello) who tend to derail an otherwise engrossing narrative.

It was a pleasure, then, to discover that Coetzee has taken that conceit and turned it on it's head here. By writing about his life as being examined by a hagiographic biographer, Coetzee
Feb 26, 2013 rated it liked it
When a writer makes himself the subject of a biography written by a fictitious biographer, and when those who are being interviewed for the record are mainly the women in his life, both lovers and despisers, all of whom did not think much of him as a man, one wonders whether the writer is building a monument to himself or placing himself under the microscope of public scrutiny. But given that this book is of the writer’s creation, one also wonders whether the fault lines on display are carefully ...more
Jan 07, 2010 rated it liked it
I'm moving this to "read" even though I stopped a little over halfway and skimmed a little bit of the end. I have no desire to ever read the rest of this book nor anything else by the author.

I thought at first it would be about the political situation in south africa, since it starts off talking about that, but it quickly devolves into several encounters of the author with other people, mostly women, who all find him unappealing, unattractive, aloof, and perhaps a touch autistic. It's about him
Geoffrey Fox
Oct 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this his third fictional autobiography, Coetzee portrays the early adulthood of a man very much like himself — with even the same name, "John Coetzee" — with similar origins and history (born into an English-speaking Afrikaner family near Capetown, returned to South Africa after some years abroad including the US, later to become a well-known writer). However this fictional John Coetzee is now dead, and what we learn about this period of his life, in his 30s and before he achieved fame as a w ...more
Jul 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
J.M. Coetzee's new novel is not just an interesting conceit. It is a luminous, complicated picture of the life of an artist and writer. But let's start with conceit, which is fun and intriguing: A biographer is writing the biography of the late J.M. Coetzee. This isn't that biography; rather it's notes from interviews the biographer collected from a handful of people who knew Coetzee, mostly women who held some kind of romantic interest for him, discussing their relationship and the kind of man ...more
James Murphy
Jan 06, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Several years ago I read in quick succession Coetzee's 2 volumes of memoir, Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life and Youth. The 2d covers his young manhood in England. Knowing he'd spent some time in the U. S. after leaving the U. K., I'd looked forward to the next installment. Summertime is both that and yet not that. It's another of his novels in which he himself is a character. And it concerns itself with continuing the story of Coetzee's life. The premise is that after Coetzee's death a biog ...more
Jun 24, 2014 marked it as unfinished
Ugggggghhhh! Picked this up because I found it on the shelf at the library when I didn't have any holds waiting for me, and I keep on thinking about fucking Disgrace, and thought maybe this one would be relevant for the season. Sort of forgot how much I basically hate this guy, except (maybe) for Elizabeth Costello, which even though it's another platform for this guy's shitty moralizing at least is ostensibly about a lady. Also in some weird way I think he gave me the idea to become a librarian ...more
Justin Evans
Mar 04, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I officially don't get what Coetzee's doing anymore. This book is compulsively, beautifully readable, while also being almost completely uninteresting. It seems to be not much more than a congeries of portraits, all but one of women who all - even the Brazilian woman - talk like the narrator of any given Coetzee novel. They're individualized, no doubt, and quite impressive each in their own way. And the obvious point, that this is a kind of autobiography which recognizes the importance of other ...more
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Coetzee's marriage 3 14 Apr 16, 2016 08:48PM  
Is Summertime a worthy memoir-fiction of the writer Coetzee? 3 51 Jan 10, 2014 06:45AM  

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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.

Other books in the series

Scenes from Provincial Life (3 books)
  • Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life
  • Youth

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