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Elizabeth Costello


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Elizabeth Costello is a humane, moral, and uncompromising creation; a masterful novel that offers us a profound and delicate vision of literary celebrity, artistry and the private life of the mind.

About the Author

J.M. Coetzee's work includes Waiting for the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Boyhood, Youth, Disgrace, Summertime and The Childhood of Jesus. He was the first author to win the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.


Fans of Coetzee’s excellent previous novels may be thrown by the style of his latest, which marks a departure from his earlier work. Elizabeth Costello is an ageing Australian novelist, heaped with accolades and largely famous for an early bestseller. Her final years are spent touring the world delivering lectures in a variety of settings, from American universities to Pacific cruise ships. The majority of the book seems to be taken up with this series of lectures, each printed almost in full, discussing literature, realism, animal rights and the nature of life and death. Most of these lectures have been previously published in other forms. The effect is that of a Kundera novel minus the characterisation (and, might I say, the wit). Like Kundera, Coetzee uses the novel as a platform for an overriding philosophy—namely, views on our treatment of animals, canvassing of ideas about immortality and the afterlife, and an examination of the writer’s role in society. Some readers may find it engrossing, but I found that the rather dry lectures that dominate the book leave little room for character development, providing the reader with little reason to care about what the title character has to say. Jo Case is a bookseller at Avenue Bookstore. C. 2003 Thorpe-Bowker and contributors

One of Coetzee's best...simply burns with creative passion -- D. J. Taylor * Independent *
An important book... Extraordinary * Independent on Sunday *
Probably the best book on the [Booker] longlist, the one that will last... Every word counts. Every sentence lives * Evening Standard *
The best novel I've read this year, a book so bold and so clever that one wants to call it something other than a novel, to take it out of that commonplace genre -- Frank Kermode * Times Literary Supplement *
A readable and engaging book. Demanding, playful, provocative...hugely enlightening and rewarding * Sunday Times *

Coetzee structures his latest novel around a series of lectures given by Elizabeth Costello, an eminent Australian novelist in the later years of her life, who is best known for her early feminist novel based on Joyce's Molly Bloom. The lectures are presented at awards ceremonies, as a guest speaker at an American university, and as part of the entertainment package aboard an Antarctic cruise ship. These philosophical inquiries cover topics ranging from realism to the African character to the nature of evil. In her longest and most passionate speech, Costello offers a spirited defense of animal rights, comparing the enslavement and slaughter of animals on factory farms to the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. These addresses and her prickly behavior between lectures infuriate audiences and alienate her long-suffering family. But Costello's rigid morality and probing intelligence finally illuminate the fundamental question of what it means to be human. An intense and challenging novel; highly recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/03.]-Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Even more uncompromising than usual, this latest novel by Coetzee (his first since 1999's Booker Prize-winning Disgrace) blurs the bounds of fiction and nonfiction while furthering the author's exploration of urgent moral and aesthetic questions. Elizabeth Costello, a fictional aging Australian novelist who gained fame for a Ulysses-inspired novel in the 1960s, reveals the workings of her still-formidable mind in a series of formal addresses she either attends or delivers herself (an award acceptance speech, a lecture on a cruise ship, a graduation speech). This ingenious structure allows Coetzee to circle around his protagonist, revealing her preoccupations and contradictions her relationships with her son, John, an academic, and her sister, Blanche, a missionary in Africa; her deep, almost fanatical concern with animal rights; her conflicted views on reason and realism; her grapplings with the human problems of sex and spirituality. The specters of the Holocaust and colonialism, of Greek mythology and Christian morality, and of Franz Kafka and the absurd haunt the novel, as Coetzee deftly weaves the intense contemplation of abstractions with the everyday life of an all-too-human body and mind. The struggle for self-expression comes to a wrenching climax when Elizabeth faces a final reckoning and finds herself at a loss for words. This is a novel of weighty ideas, concerned with what it means to be human and with the difficult and seductive task of making meaning. It is a resounding achievement by Coetzee and one that will linger with the reader long after its reverberating conclusion. (Oct. 20) Forecast: This is not the most accessible of Coetzee's novels, but it is an important addition to the author's body of work and heady reading for those who enjoy novels of ideas. Most of the book's chapters have been published separately, two as part of the nonfiction volume The Lives of Animals (Princeton, 1999). Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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