Thursday, September 15, 2011

Yes, writing about writing again: Elizabeth Costello

In Elizabeth Costello J.M. Coetzee plays more post-modern games.  What is most interesting about this novel is that it plays very fast and loose with the truth as we know it.  Most of what the Elizabeth Costello of the title preaches are speeches and lectures Coetzee himself has delivered.  Costello becomes a kind of aged priestess of his work, expounding on some of his well-worn themes.

This can be interesting, at times it can be very dull, which is part of the design.  What Elizabeth Costello is saying is often very boring to her audiences, and we, as her readers, get to participate in this as well.  She is most interesting when we get glimpses of her past and present, how she lived her life, her biography, her loneliness.  Coetzee gives us little of this.  He wants us to see the life of Costello in its totality, and this cannot be divorced from Costello the writer.

So this novel about writing has some very interesting things to say about writing, the author and their collective place in the wider scheme of things.  Coetzee views the writer as an increasingly marginal figure in today’s world (a view shared by many).  And this novel shows just how far this estrangement has gone.  We can’t help but feel sorry for Elizabeth Costello by the end of this novel.

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