So, today I was chatting to a South African woman who I pegged to be a literary type. I know that you will not be surprised to learn that I managed to insinuate Coetzee into the conversation.
(For some reason, we were talking about Oprah. Apparently, Oprah is HUGE in South Africa. Who knew? Her show comes on prime-time television, and my friend claims that she has helped heal the country's difficult race relations.)
Anyway . . . this woman said, and I quote, "Nobody in South Africa had every heard of Coetzee before he won that Nobel Prize." She backed up this mindboggling claim by saying that she had been part of a book group that included professors -- and that NONE of them had heard of this feted author, this man who has a good chance of taking home the coveted Booker of all Bookers!
(If you are just joining me, please see my post on the upcoming Booker of all Booker awards to learn why I am boring people with Coetzee reviews.)
Now Coetzee won his first Booker -- for Life & Times of Michael K -- in 1983. This award was given a full twenty years before his Nobel Prize! I don't get it.
V.S. Naipaul (another Booker and Nobel winner) once said of his own work: "I am the kind of writer that people think other people are reading." I myself am the kind of person who owns several Naipaul novels, but hasn't read any of them. Is it possible that Coetzee is this kind of author, too?
Anecdotal research tells me that Coetzee is the reclusive type of writer -- not given to schmoozing or self-promotional activities. (In other words, he is unlikely to appear on the Oprah show -- touting his latest book.) Then if you add in his typically grim subject matter, his controversial place of origin, and a certain "highmindedness" shall we say . . . well, it just doesn't add up to "good beach read" or "Airport bestseller," does it? But to be entirely unknown . . . I just don't get it.
The novel that Coetzee wrote after Disgrace is titled Elizabeth Costello. The protagonist is a woman this time, which is atypical of the Coetzee novel. (Will she be a counterpart, or foil, to Professor David Lurie?) I can't wait to read it! And I am going to read it . . . as soon as I finish The Blind Assassin, and The Life & Times of Michael K, and my other Booker books, and the upcoming Booker shortlist, and The Beauty Queen of Leenane . . .