Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: "Age of Iron" by J. M. Coetzee

There was a time when I was a huge J. M. Coetzee fan, and even placed him behind Haruki Murakami as one of the greatest living writers. But now that I have delved deeper into his oeuvre, I find myself not really liking what he has to offer. While I liked books like Disgrace, Life & Times of Michael K and Waiting for the Barbarians at the time, their effect on me and my memory has floundered, and that is only intensified by his novel Age of Iron, surely not his worst book, by far, but very far from his best. Coetzee has a great sense of place, and writes keenly about South Africa that adds great poetry to even the most aggressively violent and heartbreakingly cruel moments. But his stories, although distinct, have themes that are completely interchangeable, never once trying to shed new light on any idea from book to book. This particular novel, one of his lesser known and lesser praised books, concerns an ageing woman with terminal cancer whose dwindling life is interrupted by the brutality of apartheid. Through her interactions with a drunken homeless man, she sees the world that she is leaving behind, one that is hell bent on change and will most likely leave a number of bodies in its wake as it continues it’s progress. This book lacks any kind of memorable scenes, with even the deaths of two people having little effect on me. But the themes, however tired they are, make this story kind of an emotional one, with the dying woman’s plea for understanding as she writes letters to her daughter in America being quite devastating. But as the book went on, I felt these little revelations were not well earned by the book, who failed to provide anything else. Coetzee is not for everyone (and I’m beginning to think I’m in that group), but this is a book even his fans will have a hard time defending.

Rating: 3/5

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