To what extent does an author control the lives of his characters? This is the question at the heart of J M Coetzee’s new novel. But alongside it lies another, almost as intriguing: why is the Nobel Laureate’s writing so much easier to admire than to enjoy?
Slow Man begins with an accident in which Paul Rayment, a morose retired photographer living in Adelaide, is knocked off his bicycle. He has no family, so when he returns from hospital with an amputated leg he requires a nurse-cum-housekeeper to look after him. This he finds in the shape of Marijana Jokić, a matronly, married Croatian with whom he falls in love.
But it is not just Marijana that attracts him – it is also her family, whose stability, ironically, he threatens. He realises that he has led an insignificant life, ‘sliding through the world’, and that he has gone against the natural order of things by failing to have children. When