Coetzee can come across as cool, detached, and even cruel in the second installment of his autobiographical series, Youth: Scenes from a Provincial Life II. Part of it the third person narration. Coetzee puts distance between himself and the narrative by referring to himself as James Coetzee. Part of this may be a post-modernist trick. We are not to believe too strongly that Coetzee is actually portraying himself in this work, but a facsimile of that self.
But it is hard to let Coetzee off with this. The book, if it is nothing else, is bone rattling honest about the shortcomings of this character named Coetzee, almost render the reader a voyeur. We get to watch all the stumbling of the young Coetzee as he tries to free himself of the stifling provincial life of South Africa, for the cosmopolitan existence of London. And how can we not see it as a failure? Coetzee all but tells us that it is?
This book is really a monument to the failure of youth. There comes a time when young men and women realize that they will fail in life; that dreams, those wonderful time consumers of thought and energy, will probably never come to fruition. Coetzee is just more honest about this basic fact than most of us can bear.