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Booker Prize for Fiction > 2016 Longlist: The Schooldays of Jesus

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message 1: by Trevor (last edited Jul 27, 2016 04:49AM) (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
The Schooldays of Jesus, by J.M. Coetzee

The Schooldays of Jesus

UK Publication Date: September 29, 2016
US Publication Date: February 21, 2017
272 pp

When you travel across the ocean on a boat, all your memories are washed away and you start a completely new life. That is how it is. There is no before. There is no history. The boat docks at the harbour and we climb down the gangplank and we are plunged into the here and now. Time begins.

Davíd is the small boy who is always asking questions. Simón and Inés take care of him in their new town Estrella. He is learning the language; he has begun to make friends. He has the big dog Bolívar to watch over him. But he'll be seven soon and he should be at school. And so, Davíd is enrolled in the Academy of Dance. It's here, in his new golden dancing slippers, that he learns how to call down the numbers from the sky. But it's here too that he will make troubling discoveries about what grown-ups are capable of.

In this mesmerising allegorical tale, Coetzee deftly grapples with the big questions of growing up, of what it means to be a parent, the constant battle between intellect and emotion, and how we choose to live our lives.


message 2: by Carl (new) - added it

Carl (catamite) | 137 comments I've got hold of a copy of this but can't decide whether to read it before The Childhood or squeeze that in first. Anybody read it yet and could advise?

I am a Coetzee fan but haven't read enough of his so I'm really looking forward to it.


message 3: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10282 comments Carl wrote: "I've got hold of a copy of this but can't decide whether to read it before The Childhood or squeeze that in first. Anybody read it yet and could advise?"

One of the forum members Lee has read it - I asked the question as to whether it was necessary to read Childhood first and his reply was:

"I don't say it doesn't complement the earlier book, but it's perfectly fine as a standalone. For me anyway...and I can't actually remember much about TCOJ to be honest."

Perhaps he can add more....


message 4: by Carl (new) - added it

Carl (catamite) | 137 comments Thank you Paul. I decided to read The Many first and then maybe this one.


Yacka | 20 comments The book is available in the bookshops in London today. Waterstones and Daunt Bookshop branches definitely have a few copies each.


message 6: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 456 comments I've now read this and have absolutely nothing to say about it. Maybe if I knew something about Christianity I would understand what he is referring to in this simplistic tale.


message 7: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee Paul: I recall reading Summertime and wondering if I'd've been better starting off with #1 of that trilogy...once I'd read both that and the second part I came to the conclusion that it made not a jot of difference. As I type this I struggle to recall many things from any of the Coetzee books I've read. Basically, my experience of reading the author is both extremely pleasurable and unmemorable, in terms of plot and character. It's more a residing sense of a philosophical perspective than anything else, for me. I'm the same with Sebald.


Yacka | 20 comments Lee wrote: "Basically, my experience of reading the author is both extremely pleasurable and unmemorable, in terms of plot and character."

You will find the review in last Saturday's Guardian very interesting Lee. The reviewer is totally in agreement with you:

"...at this stage of his career, Coetzee is far more concerned with ideas than character or plot...



https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...

I am 75 pages into the book and enjoying it.


message 9: by Jibran (new) - added it

Jibran (marbles5) | 289 comments "...at this stage of his career, Coetzee is far more concerned with ideas than character or plot...

Hmmm...could this be taken to mean that Coetzee is running out of steam and now must resort to a dilettante's conception of a novel as a tool to advance ideas over creating a story by the force of its words and the strength of its characters.


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

Lee Yacka: excellent, will read that, thanks. (It's not just me then.)

Jibran: quite possibly.


message 11: by Hugh (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3538 comments Mod
The last three Coetzee novels I have read were Elizabeth Costello, Slow man and Diary of a bad year, and you could say much the same about any one of those. Some of his earlier novels (the ones up to and including Youth?) do have more conventional plotting.


message 12: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 456 comments So, any theories as to why this was longlisted?


message 13: by Hugh (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3538 comments Mod
... maybe having one of the big names there helps generate publicity


message 14: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10282 comments Has to be said if the main criticism of Coetzee/this book is "fidelity to ideas at the expense of storytelling and human drama", then on those grounds it would shoot to the top of my personal "to read" list from the rest of the longlist. Language though is a key element to a novel for me - and there I do find he falls flat.

Our host Trevor is a big fan "his very self-obsessed trilogy of semi-autobiographical books is brilliant" (author thread https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...) so interested how he ranks this one.


message 15: by Jibran (new) - added it

Jibran (marbles5) | 289 comments Paul,
In novels like Waiting for the Barbarians, Disgrace and to an extent Life and Time of Michael K., it is the language and the action that suggests ideas to the reader, asking us to interpret those lives, their motives and desires and other forces at work, without the writer trying to frame or model the story to advance a philosophical, political, or social idea, around which the whole story is weaved as though we're following a set formula. It is in the latter kind of novel readers look for the "moral message," and judge it according to the moral values they hold, and that we find mostly on bestseller lists. Plot and the element of human drama is entirely secondary to the main concern.

Of course I'm shooting in the dark with regards the latest Coetzee novel, as I have not read it, and nor have I read the previous one with Jesus in its title. But I'm interested in both and will read them in due time.


message 16: by Trevor (last edited Aug 22, 2016 11:25AM) (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
I am a big fan, and I agree with Paul's way of describing his main criticism. For me, it's a true descriptor, but not an indication of weakness. Rather, it's of someone doing things differently, though far from poorly.

I haven't read this one yet, and don't think I'll get a copy for another few weeks/month or so when Penguin here in the US start sending ARCs. I'm also interested in how I'll rate it!

In looking forward to this one, I was very heartened by John Self's twitter scroll. He was enjoying the new novel a great deal. John brings up Coetzee's simple language, something I see as a strength, developed nicely since his first, very lyrical novels. Coetzee is definitely not interested in many of the things we look for in a novel, but I think he's broadened my own ideas of the novel, and in wonderfully invigorating ways. I'm very excited for this one!


message 17: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 456 comments I didn't think it was terrible. I ranked it 8 of 13. It simply didn't resonate with me. It was simple story saying? Nothing. I assume there is a reason it has the title Schooldays of Jesus, even though none of the characters are named Jesus. So, I am giving it the benefit of the doubt by saying that if I knew anything about the Jesus mythology maybe I could connect the story with those myths and get something out of the whole thing. But since I don't, I didn't.


message 18: by Doug (new) - rated it 3 stars

Doug 'I cannot tell you, señor Arroyo,' he says, 'how much I dislike these cheap paradoxes and mystifications." p. 199

That pretty much sums up my feelings about Coetzee's allegedly allegorical work, which - although marginally more interesting than its predecessor ('Childhood of Jesus'), since it in large part deals with a mysterious murder and its aftermath - is still somewhat incomprehensible and meaningless. The story moves quickly, and there are some interesting sections, but the underlying philosophy just never brings with it any tangible results, IMHO.

On a side note, I assume that the names of the characters Dmitri and Alyosha are a reference/homage to Dostoyevsky's Brothers K., but again, can see no reasonable explanation for why that should be so (and where's Ivan?)


Matthias | 52 comments I liked the Childhood, and I liked the Schooldays even better. I am most curious how this will continue. One of the purposes of these two books seems to be that they want to defy rational understanding. They also don't want to win us over through beautiful prose. In fact, the style is often stilted. We, as readers, are confronted with all kinds of oddities that range from kafkaesque to near-miraculous, all described from the perspective of rational and somewhat simplistic Simón. Connections with the story of Jesus are made about as often as they are broken. More essential for me was that this mechanism of storytelling is being applied at many levels: Simón, and thus the reader, helplessly faces the fundamental questions of life. Even if, in our own lives, we might be done with these questions one way or the other, the transposition into a surreal world makes them relevant again. There are some powerful allusions (to Kleist's essay on the Marionette Theater, for instance) and some powerful creations (eg Metros, the comrade of Prometheus) that are only partially developed and give enough food for thought.


message 20: by Dan (new)

Dan The Schooldays of Jesus baffles me, Dan. I approach reading Coetzee novels with respect and eagerness, knowing that they may leave me uneasy or troubled. But The Schooldays of Jesus just baffled me. Although I enjoyed reading it, I fail to understand what Coetzee was trying to convey and at some basic level I believe that I fail to understand the novel.

At first, I wondered if my bafflement resulted from my not having read The Childhood of Jesus before Schooldays. But I chose to read Schooldays first, knowing that Booker titles supposedly stand alone, with each novel nominated for its own merits. Then I thought that perhaps I was baffled because of my never having read the New Testament and not understanding Coetzee’s allusions. But despite my ignorance, I’ve previously read and appreciated other novels dealing with Jesus, such as Jim Crace’s Quarantine and Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary. So I’m just left with being baffled by Schooldays: what’s it really about and why did Coetzee write it?

I’ve now finished with eleven of this year’s longlisted novels, with Serious Sweet (which hopefully Book Depository will deliver in time for me to read before the shortlist announcement) and Do Not Say We Have Nothing remaining for me to read. I was also baffled by Hystopia: so baffled, in fact, that I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, which is unusual for me. And I was also somewhat baffled by The Sellout: I understood some of the allusions, I found some of it amusing and some of it poignant, but at some basic level I’m left feeling that I just didn’t understand it. At least with The Sellout, if it’s on the shortlist, I’ll reread it in hope of gaining greater understanding and greater appreciation. But I doubt that I would reread either Hystopia or Schooldays of Jesus if they’re shortlisted.


Jonathan Pool For the first half of Schooldays of Jesus I was fully engaged with the main characters; Simon, Ines, David (and Ana Magdalena to a lesser extent). The interactions between them often surprised, and their responses to one another weren't predictable.

The exchanges between David; a very young, precocious, child, and the beleaguered surrogate father Simon particularly impressed.
Simon throughout the book was compelling, and dealt with each setback with admirable stoicism.

Simon's patience was only rarely exhausted and I felt his exasperation as just about everybody was inconsistent in their interactions with him.
Simon could have come straight out of Charles Dickens. Think Mark Tapley in Martin Chuzzlewit.
In some respects the whole book read like a Dickensian short story for the 21st century.

If Coetzee had chosen to write a book that simply developed as David grew up I think I would have been very happy.

At the point where Dimitri took over as the primary focal point of the book, my engagement with the literal sequence of events diminished.

So, what is the meaning of the book on a metaphorical level?
Who is the Jesus of the title?

Some of the deeper meanings were beautifully presented.
Simon's explanation of mortality, and existence beyond death after the killing of a duck was masterfully told.
However, when Coetzee writes of numbers, and stars, a deeper meaning escapes me.

My first Coetzee but certainly not my last.


message 22: by Ang (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ang | 1685 comments Having been brought up in a strictly religious Catholic household, I'm well aware of the stories of Jesus. I am not the least bit religious anymore, and I'm not sure if Coetzee's allegory is meant to be about Jesus at all. Jesus is a common name outside of English speaking nations and the names used in the book have accent marks, so are not exactly English names. However, I do think he does mean the famous Jesus, and
has imagined an upbringing which indulges a "special" child, like Colm Toibin has imagined a man who is considered "special" and has many followers, yet is just a normal man.


message 23: by Dan (new)

Dan Ang wrote: "Having been brought up in a strictly religious Catholic household, I'm well aware of the stories of Jesus. I am not the least bit religious anymore, and I'm not sure if Coetzee's allegory is meant ..."
Thanks, Ang. Your comments helped me to understand Schooldays better. Perhaps the test of your hypothesis will come when the next volume (The Young Adulthood of Jesus? The Adolescence of Jesus?) reaches print.


MisterHobgoblin Belatedly I have got around to writing down my thoughts on this book - which I got very little from:

Not quite sure what this was all about.

You can't put Jesus in the title without making people wonder how the book relates to Jesus. And having read this, I still can't see it. The boy is called Davíd. He seems to be a refugee in some unnamed Hispanic land, judging by the place names - although Estrella is very close in sound to Australia, Coetzee's adopted homeland. Davíd appears to be looked after by a man and woman who are related neither to him not to each other: Simón and Inés. Neither seems to have any character or depth, although Simón has the power to irritate by always being referred to as "he, Simón". And all three of them irritate with their accents, requiring the reader to adopt counter-intuitive pronunciations.

Not all of the characters have Spanish names: two at least have Russian names. One of these Dmitri, is the fourth principal character in the novel, seeming to act both literally and metaphorically as a gatekeeper to acceptance in the Dance academy to which David is enrolled.

And nothing much happens. Sure, there is murder, suspicion and a trial, but none of it feels significant. Despite this supposed action, the focus os on meandering philosophical questioning that might have some meaning but life is too short to extract it. The result is the feeling of reading a dull and disjointed book that is not being properly understood. Perhaps Coetzee would say something about casting pearls before swine, but this pig, at least, would rather he had cast corncobs.

Really, unless you are some literary genius, leave well alone.


message 25: by Ang (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ang | 1685 comments I was also unsure about the "he, Simon". Hilary Mantel did the same with Wolf Hall and then less so in Bring Up the Bodies because people commented about it so much. One thing about Coetzee, I don't think he'd change his device because some readers didn't like it. I think it works, by setting the tone that Simon is the "HE" in this book, not David or Dmitri or ...


MisterHobgoblin I thought with Hilary Mantel that readers had been confused by all the "he"s in Wolf Hall, so in Bring Up The Bodies she had employed "he, Thomas" as a device. But I may have got that wrong - I didn't read Bring Up The Bodies and was confused in Wolf Hall because all the characters were called Thomas, Richard or Henry (hence the origin of "every Tom, Dick and Harry"?)


message 27: by Ang (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ang | 1685 comments It was "he, Cromwell" in Wolf Hall I think. I only read a fifth of Bring Up the Bodies and was sad that it won.


Karen (bookertalk) | 41 comments It's been a few weeks now since I read this and I'm still not sure what I've read. The narrative style irritated me to hell - all those inclusions of He, Simon, when it was abundantly clear who was being referred to.


message 29: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10282 comments Slightly random comment but I wonder if Coetzee's attitude to Booker publicity hasn't helped his cause this year.

When last shortlisted he didn't turn up to any of the publicity event or even the award ceremony.

And looking at the rules that technically disqualifies him - think that they've tightened up requirements:

"It is a strict condition of entry that publishers agree to make it a priority to ensure that authors whose books are submitted or called in make themselves available for publicity and events from longlist stage on and that if shortlisted, authors will attend the award ceremony. If there is any problem over the author’s availability, Four Colman Getty must be informed immediately. The publisher, publicist and agent of a longlisted author are strongly advised to attend a briefing meeting which is convened by Four Colman Getty shortly after the longlist is announced."


message 30: by Dan (new)

Dan Paul wrote: "Slightly random comment but I wonder if Coetzee's attitude to Booker publicity hasn't helped his cause this year.

When last shortlisted he didn't turn up to any of the publicity event or even the ..."


Paul, I apologize for being dense (my daughters would heartily agree that I am), but I don't understand how Coetzee's failure to turn up to publicity events could have helped his cause this year.


message 31: by Trevor (last edited Sep 27, 2016 11:30AM) (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
This is another reason I am ever more disillusioned by the Booker and its "fiction at its finest" mantra. I have no way of knowing if Paul's suspicions are right, but I'm suspicious too. That rule is a not so veiled threat that any author who won't show up to publicity events won't make it to the shortlist.

The Booker Prize is more concerned with its brand and events than actually letting the books fight by their merit.

Three cheers to Coetzee for presumably not caring.


message 32: by Dan (new)

Dan Trevor, Now I understand Paul's comment above. Thanks for your perhaps inadvertent clarification.


message 33: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10282 comments Not sure I agree though Trevor. The whole point of the Booker is to promote books to the UK reading public and also to reward the generous sponsor with some publicity. If authors can't be bothered to play the game, don't enter.


message 34: by Ang (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ang | 1685 comments Coetzee is an automatic entry. I'm with Trevor - surely a prize for the best book shouldn't have additional criteria of author publicity.


message 35: by Ang (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ang | 1685 comments Anya wrote: "Oh, so little love on this forum for "The Schooldays"...I think that there were perhaps two people, aside from me, who really liked the book?"
If you look at the ratings of those writing on this thread, most are 4 or 5 stars.


message 36: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10282 comments Ang wrote: "Coetzee is an automatic entry. I'm with Trevor - surely a prize for the best book shouldn't have additional criteria of author publicity."

He is not an automatic entry. He just does not count against his publishers quota. He still has to be submitted and still has to abide by the same rules.

"As long as it otherwise complies with all the rules of the prize, any novel by an author who has previously been shortlisted for the prize may be submitted in addition to, and will not form part of, the publishers’ entry quotas."

Also one of the reasons the Booker is so successful in terms of profile, boost to author sales etc is precisely because it does the publicity thing so well.


message 37: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
I am sure I'm unfair, and Coetzee has definitely benefitted from his double Booker win and multiple long/short lists. I don't think he cares, but I bet he doesn't send back the proceeds. And the Booker wins because they recognized a Nobel winner before he won.

But I doubt Coetzee had anything to do with his book being submitted this year, and I'm okay that he's done with the process. I just think the rule that he has to attend goes against the high minded "fiction at its finest" and showcases the commercial aspects of the prize.


message 38: by Ang (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ang | 1685 comments Perhaps they should be emphasising the publisher rather than the author. I had not seen that clause before, and it puts me off the Booker.


message 39: by Paul (last edited Sep 27, 2016 11:33PM) (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10282 comments Incidentally and to add to views that this is too commercial/publicity focused, shortlisted authors are awarded only 2500 each in prize money, but the Foundation also demand 5000 from their publisher for "general publicity". So the 5 that don't win actually end up net paying for the privilege of being shortlisted.

Anyway Goldsmith's shortlist out tonight - a much less commercial and high quality prize. I assume everyone will be reading along that with me if fiction at its finest is what we're all after rather than publicity-minded prizes.


MisterHobgoblin The purpose of the Booker is to sell books. The biggest prizes for the shortlisted authors are increased sales of their shortlisted book, and the reputation of "Booker shortlisted author" which can be put on the front of future books and guarantees newspaper reviews. The prize money and publisher contribution are almost incidental and there is no suggestion that the shortlisters end up "paying for the privilege".

I agree that it is reasonable to demand that prizewinners and nominees cooperate with the publicity process that should be a co-production of author, publisher and prize committee.


message 41: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10282 comments Anya wrote: "How would it benefit the Booker if publishers sell more books? (Perhaps only indirectly, i.e. the prestige of the Booker is such that it guarantees higher book sales). "

Think you've answered your own question - and indeed obviously boosts the profile of the sponsor as well. It's a virtuous circle - famous prize generates profile for authors generates profile for prize.

I'm with MrHobgoblin on this one (if not on our views of some of the books on the list)


Karen (bookertalk) | 41 comments Dan wrote: "So I’m just left with being baffled by Schooldays: what’s it really about and why did Coetzee write it.."

My thoughts exactly. I just didnt get it at all


Karen (bookertalk) | 41 comments I'm so glad others had the same experience I did and failed to comprehend the point of this book. Here are my rambling thoughts https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


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