Diary of a Bad Year by J M Coetzee - review by Carole Angier

Carole Angier

The Heart and the Head

Diary of a Bad Year

By

Harvill Secker 231pp £16.99 order from our bookshop
 

This is a grumpy old man’s book. Specifically, it’s a grumpy old lefty’s book. The right wing will dismiss it as the paranoid ravings of a madman (as they dismiss Harold Pinter, quoted with approval here). But they will be wrong. First because history has a way of showing that the most shocking ideas were right after all; and secondly because Diary of a Bad Year is much more than just ideas.

The ideas belong to C, a distinguished South African writer living in Australia. He has been invited to contribute to a book called Strong Opinions, in which six eminent writers pronounce on what’s wrong with today’s world. Evidently C is a well-known and practised moaner; he accepts with alacrity, and lays about him with a will.

What is wrong with the world today, he argues, is its postmodern relativism, which he traces back to quantum mechanics and (a bit paranoid) ‘literature classes in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s’. Nothing is solid any more, including the authority of the writer on the page. So

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