Elizabeth Costello – J.M. Coetzee

Just finished this book. It is the first time I have read Coetzee and I suspect that this is not a book for a first timer. While I got a peek into the brilliance of his mind and writing, I am afraid I was not able to appreciate it fully because I did not understand it completely.

This book is supposed to be about an acclaimed Australian author : Elizabeth Costello who is now in her last days. She makes her life by now giving lectures in the academic circles. It is through these lectures that first 6 chapters of the book are covered and though they are disconnected, we do get a glimpse into the mind of a writer. How she thinks, what she thinks about certain topics etc. Three thoughts are very strongly debated. Vegitarianism, African novel, Christianity and Hellinistic religion and lastly, exploration of evil by an author. She tries to make sense of the world but she is often presented with stark examples of both contrasts and thus she is flummoxed about what the reality is and what really matters. Then, there is a chapter about how she is waiting outside a door and is judged by a panel upon her beliefs. She is unable to point out a single thing that she believes in.

This is also the point where the book becomes a complete bouncer. No clue about what the author is actually trying to say. The last chapter which is actually a letter from Lady Chandos to some Francis Bacon, is almost as good as unread to me.

However, the parts that I understood impressed me a lot. There was a lot of analysis in the debates and almost all points that one can imagine were put on the table. One learns that the writer is a man of great thinking. The life of Elizabeth Costello is also very similar to Coetzee’s own life. It is I think an autobiographical portrait of himself as an author. I think that the experience of J.M. Coetzee, the writer, is what we have been offered. Being such an intelligent and complex man that he is, it is not surprising the book has turned out to be such. I will have to read it a few times more to really grasp it all.


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