Late Essays by J M Coetzee - review by James Womack

James Womack

Glossed in Translation

Late Essays


Harvill Secker 297pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

‘I wouldn’t have said Balthus was naive. I’d have said on the contrary that he’s very sophisticated.’

‘It’s the same thing,’ Alberto stated flatly.


This exchange, from James Lord’s A Giacometti Portrait, could serve as an epigraph to this collection of J M Coetzee’s essays, which move uncomfortably between the interestingly complex and the surprisingly straightforward. They are billed as ‘late’ essays, but it would be a shame if ‘late’ were held to indicate that they stand at the end of a career (like Beethoven’s Late Quartets) rather than that they are of recent production (‘I have of late, but wherefore I know not…’): they mark an obvious weakening in focus and a concentration of critical faculties on odd and unrewarding terrain.

Coetzee’s style has always been one of pitiless exposition. In his fiction, this pays dividends: at his best, he sounds like no one else in the way he builds his sentences and his chapters. Think of how Elizabeth Costello sets out her arguments, or the evocation of Dostoevsky’s thought processes

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