Born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 9, 1940, John Michael Coetzee studied first at Cape Town and later at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in literature. In 1972 he returned to South Africa and joined the faculty of the University of Cape Town. His works of fiction include Dusklands, Waiting for the Barbarians, which won South Africa's highest literary honor, the Central News Agency Literary Award, and the Life and Times of Michael K., for which Coetzee was awarded his first Booker Prize in 1983. He has also published a memoir, Boyhood: Scenes From a Provincial Life, and several essays collections. He has won many other literary prizes including the Lannan Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize and The Irish Times International Fiction Prize. In 1999 he again won Britain's prestigious Booker Prize for Disgrace, becoming the first author to win the award twice in its 31-year history. In 2003, Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
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
A brilliant technique: Coetzee purports to disclose the life of a distinguished Australian through eight speeches she gave. No wonder he's won two Bookers. 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.
[Elizabeth Costello] resonates in the mind long after it has been put aside. (John Banville, The Nation)