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Improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius.

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Monday, July 16th, 2012

Elizabeth Costello and the White King

‘Answer me, Paul. Say something.’

It is like a sea beating against his skull. Indeed, for all he knows he could already be lost overboard, tugged to and fro by the currents of the deep. The slap of water that will in time strip his bones of the last sliver of flesh. Pearls of his eyes; coral of his bones.

Elizabeth Costello is my hero for the way she transforms Slow Man with her entrance. That is all I have to say about it right now because I just read that bit not two hours ago, still no idea quite where Coetzee is headed with this, but that chapter was an absolute masterpiece, a revelation. (Thanks Jorge for the recommendation -- it is a good first sentence.)

posted evening of July 16th, 2012: Respond
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Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

'Unnecessary complication? I don't think so. An expansion. Like breathing. Breathe in, breathe out. Expand, contract. The rhythm of life. You have it in you to be a fuller person, Paul, larger and more expansive, but you won't allow it. I urge you: don't cut short these thought-trains of yours. Follow them through to their end. Your thoughts and your feelings. Follow them through and you will grow with them. What was it that the American poet fellow said? There weaves always a fictive covering from something to something. My memory is going. I become vaguer with each passing day. A pity. Hence this little lesson I am trying to teach you. He finds her by the riverside, sitting on a bench, clustered around by ducks that she seems to be feeding – it may be simple, as an account, its simplicity may even beguile one, but it is not good enough. It does not bring me to life. Bringing me to life may not be important to you, but it has the drawback of not bringing you to life either. Or the ducks, for that matter, if you prefer not to have me at the centre of the picture. Bring these humble ducks to life and they will bring you to life, I promise. Bring Marijana to life, if it must be Marijana, and she will bring you to life. It is as elementary as that. But please, as a favour to me, please stop dithering. I do not know how much longer I can support my present mode of existence.'
Slow Man is a much, much weirder book than Elizabeth Costello. I found it just spell-binding to watch the growth of intimacy between her and her character, after her shocking introduction midway through. The first half of the book had a couple of faults I thought in terms of pacing and tone; but they were more than made up for by the latter half. Indeed the second half made those missteps part of the story.

Coetzee's books about Costello are as much about the craft of writing, I think, as about anything else. Here Costello, midway through a story that is threatening not to go anywhere interesting, inserts herself into the story's reality and tries to involve her characters in creating themselves and their stories; she is not ultimately successful*, she cannot woo Paul out of his shell, the story of his recuperation will just be the story of him living out his days, slow, uneventful. It makes for about as weird a bit of metafiction as I can imagine, and a fascinating read.

*(And it occurs to me here that what I said about Goldberg: Variations absolutely does not apply to this book.)

posted evening of July 18th, 2012: Respond
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