There are two narratives the late J.C. Kannemeyer follows in this extensive literary biography: that of Coetzee’s life and the life of his works. Neither is likely to enthral everyone. Coetzee’s life, although marked by intense moral and intellectual focus, is far from bohemian, and his works, characterised by meta-fictional explorations and narrative ambiguities, are difficult to penetrate.
Chronologically structured, the focus is on Coetzee’s novels, with personal circumstances and his academic work informing his literary output. The volume is hefty, but at times a little redundant. But it does what every literary biography should: it leaves you with a reading list. You finish excited to read every one of Coetzee’s novels, from the elusive Dusklands, to the devastating Life and times of Michael K, the troubling Disgrace, and the more personable Boyhood, Youth and Summertime. You may even wish to tackle his essays collected in Inner Workings. The reading list, however, is not limited to Coetzee’s output. Kannemeyer’s strength is relevance, linking writers as diverse as Gordimer, Breytenbach, Beckett, and Defoe with Coetzee’s imagination, creating a desire to hear the chimes and discords between his and their work.
J.M. Coetzee: A life in writing may not be for everyone, but is worth an exploration for those interested in the author himself or the workings of a literary life.