October 2011

Arts & Letters

Fiction masterpiece

By Geordie Williamson
JM Coetzee - ‘Summertime’, 2009

Is it a cheat to suggest this quasi-memoir by a South African–born Nobel Prize winner as the best work of Australian fiction since the dawn of the new century? Perhaps it shows how problematic those categories have become.

Whatever the case, the third volume in the autobiographical trilogy Scenes from a Provincial Life is the best thing Coetzee has written since Disgrace (itself a signal novel of the last quarter-century). A fictional examination of the author’s life between 1972 and 1977, constructed by a curious biographer following Coetzee’s death, Summertime is built from archival fragments and the invented testimony of men and women who knew him well.

The conceit of posthumous authorship permits a liberation of sorts after the grimly censorious third-person perspective of predecessors Boyhood and Youth. Coetzee’s trademark melancholy and self-laceration remain, of course. But there is joy here, particularly in those passages dealing with his return as an adult to the Karoo, the harshly beautiful land of his forebears: “This place wrenches my heart, he says. It wrenched my heart when I was a child, and I have never been right since.” To read lines such as these from Coetzee’s pen is like watching a cold-climate plant slowly swivel toward the sun.

—Geordie Williamson

Geordie Williamson

Geordie Williamson is a writer, editor and critic.

@gamwilliamson

Cover: October 2011

October 2011

From the front page

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Isolation nation

The PM is looking like the odd man out

Caravaggio's Saint Jerome, the patron saint of scholars. Wikimedia Commons

The life not lived

Reflections on scholarship

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What dreams may come: ‘Hamnet’

Shakespeare’s son succumbs to plague as Maggie O’Farrell conjures Elizabethan England

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In This Issue

Scene from 'The Theft of Sita'. Image courtesy of Melbourne Festival.

Music theatre masterpiece

An Australian–Indonesian production - ‘The Theft of Sita’, 2000

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Robert Helpmann & Anna Pavlova

Theatre masterpiece

Tom Wright & Benedict Andrews - ‘The War of the Roses’, 2009

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Queen of the night

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