Greg's Reviews > Diary of a Bad Year

Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee
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The novel is written in three continuous strands. First, a series of short essays. What some people call Occasional Pieces. Second, the story of the writer and the lady. Or what could be called the general plot of the book. And third the perspective of the lady, her observations and narration of the events of strand two and sometimes opinions of strand one, of which she has been hired to type up for the aging author.

Almost every page is split into three sections. Each section corresponding to a different strand.

At first the sections neatly frame each of the strands. But then the sections begin to be less contiguous. Some sections are very short and episodic, some go on stretching for multiple chapters. The chapter lengths decided by the length of the essays. Some stories keeping going on and on. The reader has to make a choice, follow the story or follow the pages.

The reader must make a choice. There is no way around it. A choice must be made.

Inevitably what the reader choses implicates him or her into the crime of authorship. The crime of choice, of discrimination. The book I read and gave four stars to could be the same one physically that you read, but the text inevitably would be radically different. There is little chance you could make the same choices I did. The text would be radically different the next time I read this book. There is little chance I would make the same choices again.

I can't help but wonder what the experience would have been to read the book in a different order.

To have read the third section through all of the chapters and then return to read the essays, and finally read the story: what would this book have been? I fear falling into a Borgesian trap with contemplation of all the possible texts contained within this one unassuming book.

How would Coetzee have wanted this book to be read? I mean how did he perceive his perfect reader to read this book, does he still perceive the perfect reader in the same way?

Coetzee, the author writer, remains almost silent on the Question within the confines of the book. To go outside of the book and see what he may have said in an interview, what some scholar or that scholar says and thinks, or what another reviewer states would not answer anything. Instead, merely another layer would be added to the text, a barrier would be erected, even though it was meant to be a bridge meant to cross the abyss of distance between the writer, the book, and the reader.

Coetzee, the writer, mentions Barthes. He acknowldges the death of the author as figurehead. Of the text as a monolithic totality. Coetzee mentions Focault.

By what right do I have to be writing any of this? To be adding my own voice to this book, to any book. To be forcing my way between a person and a book and trying to add my own voice to the resonance of voices. To the white noise of people all trying to add their own nonsense into the din.

We are all tyrannical authors, at least in our dreams. Most of us are just lazy authors though, and commit our crimes without the labor of creation.

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Reading Progress

June 1, 2010 – Started Reading
June 1, 2010 – Shelved
June 1, 2010 – Shelved as: fiction
June 2, 2010 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Jen (new)

Jen I would have to read it as many times as necessary to choose all the choices. At least I did Choose Your Own Adventure books that way. I suppose I'm lazy and persistent in my laziness.


Greg The choices are more subtle than a choose your own adventure, each page you are sort of faced with a keep reading the strand I'm on? Or see what is going on with the other two strand choice.

Reading all of the possible orders for this book would be what ever the number of 3 to the 200th power would be. But in the non-theory world, you are getting to read the same book whichever way you choose.


message 3: by Jessica (new)

Jessica I own this book. I should read it.


message 4: by karen (new)

karen it makes me sleepy to even think about.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

i have no idea what this review is talking about.


Doralee Brooks SPOILER ALERT: Don't read if you have not finished the book!


Help me! I read this years ago and loved it. I'm still trying to figure out the ending. The girlfriend did double cross her boyfriend, but in the end, did she cheat the older man?


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