Jeff Koloze's Reviews > Diary of a Bad Year

Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee
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Recommended for: college students

J. M. Coetzee’s novel is a challenging read, mainly because three narratives are printed simultaneously on most of the 227 pages. That is, the narrator, who is “losing motor control” (31), expounds his ideas on politics (bashing President George W. Bush and the United States), literary criticism, and Christian principles in the top third of each page. The middle of each page documents his conversation with the woman who types his manuscript. The bottom third records the conversations between the typist and her lover. Halfway through the book, I wondered whether it would be easier to read the three segments one at a time or, as most readers would, from the top to the bottom of one page before going to the next. Either method would work.

Besides this readability challenge, several items intrigued me, including the narrator’s idea that “inner emigration” could be a third option between “placid servitude” and “revolt against servitude” (12). The comments about American literary criticism of the eighties and nineties should delight every English professor who suffered through that politically-correct era (33). The narrator’s (and author’s) hatred of President George W. Bush and the fear of US policies around the world could be just more anti-Americanism from a foreign author; however, one must remember that the novel was written before the near-dictatorship of the Obama years, so Coetzee can be forgiven the fictional hatred expressed here (123). The passage illustrating the coded language that men use with each other is comical (162-3). Calling himself “the guardian and protector of the unloved and unlovable” should endear the narrator to every pro-lifer (188). (Warning, though: Wikipedia reports that Coetzee is involved in animal rights, so one hopes that he is a pro-life animal rights activist and not someone like fellow Australian Peter Singer who loves the little critters but argues for the killing of handicapped newborns.) Finally, the narrator’s discussion of Jesus’ contribution to political theory should appeal to every professor using Marxist literary theory (224).

Summary opinion: while this novel had nothing to do with research about the disabled and the right-to-life issues that I am working on, it was a good way to spend another day of Christmas break. At least it wasn’t as depressing as other infanticide and euthanasia novels I have to read.
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Reading Progress

December 18, 2018 – Started Reading
December 19, 2018 – Shelved
December 19, 2018 – Finished Reading

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