J.M. Coetzee's Boyhood, Confession, and Truth

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 University of York derek.attridge@york.ac.uk
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J.M. Coetzee is not known for confessional self-revelation. In a series of seven novels, from Dusklands in 1974 to The Master of Petersburg in 1994, he has honed a fictional style that, whatever the mode of narration, offers no hint of a personal authorial presence. The characters through whose consciousness the narrative is relayed, characters such as Magda in In The Heart of the Country, the Magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians, Susan Barton in Foe, or Mrs Curren in Age of Iron, whether they are represented in the first or third person, absorb the entire affective and axiological space of the fiction. Coetzee’s substantial body of critical commentary, too – which includes the books White Writing and Giving Offense as well as the articles collected in Doubling the Point – while moving away from the highly technical stylistic analyses of the early essays to issues of more autobiographical relevance like censorship and animal rights in the later work, is not in any way self-revelatory. His reluctance to account for his fictions in the terms provided by his own life reaches a somewhat absurd extreme in the written interview that was published in the 1994 special issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly devoted to Coetzee: questions that occupy some thirteen pages in all receive answers that add up to little more than a page.

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