Despite its bizarre and even roughshod ending, Coetzee’s The Master of Petersburg is a thrilling, although difficult book to read. Coetzee’s Dostoevsky is compellingly rendered, complex and rich in his observations of human life.
But it is the inn keeper, the widow, who really steals the show. Anna is Dostoevsky’s unexpected lover, and each time he is with her, “he finds something new and surprising in her.” She becomes the counter-point to Dostoevsky’s sense of loss and turmoil. A woman who can, despite her setbacks in life, still see the hope and glimmer of transformation in things; yet she sees reality for what it is, and experiences it fully.
The relationship between this enigmatic woman and the master of Petersburg is reason enough for reading this well-crafted novel. Coetzee writes complex, psychological and philosophically driven novels, and The Master of Petersburg does not fail on either front.