Monday, 22 July 2019

Youth by J.M.Coetzee

"For just as the spirit of the artist is both flame and fever, so the woman who longs to be licked by tongues of flame will at the same time do her best to quench the fever and bring down the artist to common ground."

It is somewhat remarkable that such a slim volume fits so much in. I literally tore through this and part of it, I have to admit, was 'hate' reading. You know that feeling when you detest a character so much and yet you are fascinated by them? That's what happened here for me. The narrator is, to be honest, a bit of a dick. He is emotionally removed from the women he hooks up with and so caught up in his own story as if to be an almost a non-entity.

His notion of literary greatness and the requirements of achieving it, his immense distaste for his origins and his family are disturbing. I guess one of the most worrying elements is how much his self absorbed, self-loathing is at times repulsive, and at others familiar. Particularly for someone like me that always had the feeling they were a square peg in a round hole. That can easily verge on self indulgent.

This tale of a young would-be literary giant leaving his origins in South Africa far behind with an attempt at reinvention in London in the 60s is so well realised. I was there, I experienced the feelings, or lack there of. This is pretty amazing writing, despite me really not loving the frustration of the subject matter.  It is a frustration we all feel at some time or another and feel so vividly in youth. Hence, why this book gets top marks from me and why the title is so apt.

5 out of 5 frustrated writers are self flagellating.

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