The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee – A Review by Andrew Cattanach

Rarely does a blurb prepare you so perfectly for what you are about to read.

The Childhood of Jesus is not like any other novel you have read.

And it is with the same forthright vagueness, if there is such a thing, that J.M. Coetzee tells a beautiful tale of love, loss, and everything in-between.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. J.M. Coetzee was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature and is the first person to win The Man Booker Prize twice. How does one divorce the incredible achievements of a legendary novelist and concentrate solely on his latest work.

Thanks to the genius of Coetzee, now an Australian citizen, I had no need to worry. I was thrown head-first into a world I never wanted to leave, even if I’d had the choice. From the first sentence the book washed over me. I knew I couldn’t reemerge into my world until I turned the last page.

The Childhood Of Jesus is the story of a young boy, David, and his friend and carer Simón. They enter the story as new arrivals into a foreign land, a land where the Spanish spoken is not their native tongue. We learn that David’s mother had left him to fend for himself on the ship, and gave him a letter tied around his neck with instructions on what to do when he arrived to new shores. Tragically, David loses the letter and finds himself alone. Simón takes care of David and finds a sense of purpose, not only in watching over him but helping him to find his mother.

They try and establish a life together while searching for David’s mother. Eventually Simón finds work, and with it the means for food and shelter for the two refugees while they attempt to build relationships with those around them, sometimes inhibited by the peccadilloes of their new home.

Then one day Simón sees her. He’s sure of it, even if David isn’t. Surely, it must be her…..

Early noise about The Childhood Of Jesus suggested a far more conventional narrative about the infancy of the founder of Christianity. Now that the novel is upon us, it appears a much longer bow has been drawn to Christ’s early days, and only on reflection do we begin to see the cracks widen and the subtle themes emerge.

As with many of Coetzee’s works, much of the novel uses the characters as vessels to explore deeper philosophical issues. Many passages from The Childhood of Jesus may leave you staring into space, pondering bigger things than just ink on paper. It reads like a fable, every word carefully drawn out by the author and together molded into an exceptional, timeless piece of work.

The Childhood Of Jesus breathes hope into a world where there appears none, laughter in a troubled time, a lesson before you’ve realised you were being taught. It may be a big player come awards season this year, so like its protagonists, catch the boat and journey to a strange new land. You won’t regret it.

Click here to pre-order The Childhood Of Jesus from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

VINTAGE Books Celebrates its 21st Birthday with a Rainbow

VINTAGE Books have chosen a wonderful way to celebrate their 21st Birthday. They have produced a rainbow of colourful new editions of the best fiction in their impressive collection.

These are some of the best, most talked about and most lauded novels published in the last 21 years. It is an astonishing list. Novels by Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Atwood, Philip Roth, Ian McEwan, A. S. Byatt,  J.M. Coetzee to name but a few…

If you have ever wanted to be more familiar with contemporary literature then there is no better place to start. For just over two hundred dollars you could acquire a stunning library of the best of the best in modern literature. (Just think how cool your bookcase will look!)

How fun would that be to give the full collection to someone you love!?  You could surprise them with a gift that has the potential to change their lives for the better.

Of course, you can buy them individually, too.

Imagine spending the next 21 weeks reading one great book after another… and by the end of your reading you would be familiar with some of the best names in modern literature. I bet, once you’re done, you’ll want to read more of their books. You’ll never be lost for something to read again.

The Vintage 21st Birthday Rainbow:

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

The Gathering by Anne Enright

Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor

Atonement by Ian McEwan

The Road Home by Rose Tremain

Money by Martin Amis

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Possession by A. S. Byatt

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Click here to view the VINTAGE 21 on Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

S. J. Watson, author of Before I Go To Sleep, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

S. J. Watson

author of Before I Go To Sleep

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in a part of England called The Black Country, so called because of pollution from the coal mining, steel mills and iron foundries that choked the area in the nineteenth century. There was still a lot of heavy industry in the area when I was growing up there, and even though that’s all but disappeared now the area still has a very distinctive feel to it. Growing up there, miles from the coast, has left me with a love of the sea. I only saw it once or twice a year, and even now I live in London the coast feels like a magical, special place.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

By the time I was twelve I’d given up on my early ambition to be a bin man and decided I wanted to be a writer. When I was eighteen I wanted to be the guitarist and lead singer in a terribly serious guitar band but I contented myself with writing streams of lyrics and pretending I was Morrissey. By thirty I’d swung back round to wanting to be a writer. My career as a Clinical Scientist was becoming more established, but still I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I was starting to realise that writing would never just be a hobby for me, or a pastime, but something I needed to do in order to be happy.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That security is the most important thing in the world. I used to be very frightened of taking risks. I was always thinking of the future, rather than the present. Now I know that safety isn’t everything, that there’s a value in risk and that doing something that feels right is more important than doing something that makes sense.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has had the most obvious, direct influence on me, so I’d choose that first. I read it when I was in my late twenties, and it was so perfect that as soon as I’d turned the last page I said to myself, ‘I always wanted to write novels. So why am I not writing?’ I guess it was the book that reconnected me with my childhood ambition.

Second, I absolutely love the photographs of Nan Goldin. It’s hard to choose one, because for me they have a sort of cumulative effect, but her book The Devil’s Playground is one I go back to again and again. I love the intimacy of her work, and the way it manages to be both brutal and beautiful.

Third, I’d have to say the TV series Six Feet Under. I think TV is a very underrated medium, and this series in particular is a work of art. I watched all five seasons over a few weeks a couple of years ago and it’s just a staggering achievement. It’s so moving and profound, and the characters are wonderful. I’d love to one day write something as powerful.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I’m in love with language. I love the way that in a novel the writer allows the reader to cast the characters and dress the scene and choose the props. I love the fact that no two readers will see the characters in exactly the same way, and that everyone will bring their own perspective to the book. Reading a book is a collaborative process. Also, I wanted to express my creativity and couldn’t really do anything else! (BBGuru: Great answer!)

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

It’s called Before I Go to Sleep and is about a woman who has no memory. She wakes every day with no knowledge of who she is or how she came to be in this strange place she doesn’t recognize, and the book tells the story of how she begins to piece her life together and learn the truth, which isn’t what she might have expected.

It has its origins in an obituary I read about a man called Henry Gustav Molaison. He had died in 2008 but, since undergoing surgery for epilepsy in 1953, had been unable to form new memories and so lived constantly in the past. I wondered how it must feel to wake up every day thinking it was 1953, and was struck immediately by a mental image of a woman looking in a bathroom mirror in a strange house to find that, instead of a teenager reflected there, she had become a middle-aged woman, and the house was her home. So while the novel isn’t about Molaison, it was inspired by his condition.

Order you copy of  Before I Go to Sleep

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

It’s a thriller, and there are a few surprises along the way, so I hope people finish the book with a feeling that they’ve been on an exciting journey. But I also wanted to ask some questions about identity, about what makes us who we are, and also about ageing and the nature of love, so my hope is that people will be thinking about those kind of issues, too.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

It changes daily. Right now I’m loving reading J M Coetzee, but last week I’d have probably chosen DBC Pierre and the week before that Kristin Hersh, whose memoir Rat Girl is brilliant. The one writer I keep going back to is Margaret Atwood though, so if you’re forcing me to choose I’ll say her.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Just to keep writing, really, and to keep exploring new territory. I want to stretch myself with every book, and to keep people guessing with what I’ll come up with next!

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

It’s a terrible cliché, but there’s no getting away from it. The only way to write is by sitting down and doing it. There’s no magic formula, there’s no fairy godmother who’ll create your manuscript while you sit around having clever thoughts. So I’d say write, every day, even when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it. Writing’s a job. It’s a fantastic job, but it’s still a job.

Mr Watson, thank you for playing.

BREAKING NEWS: Summertime by J.M. Coetzee Wins 2010 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction

Summertime by J.M. Coetzee

A young English biographer is working on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. He plans to focus on the years from 1972 – 1977 when Coetzee, in his thirties, is sharing a run-down cottage in the suburbs of Cape Town with his widowed father.

This, the biographer senses, is the period when he was finding his feet as a writer. Never having met Coetzee, he embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to him – a married woman with whom he had an affair, his favourite cousin Margot, a Brazilian dancer whose daughter had English lessons with him, former friends and colleagues.

From their testimony emerges a portrait of the young Coetzee as an awkward, bookish individual with little talent for opening himself to others. Within the family he is regarded as an outsider, someone who tried to flee the tribe and has now returned, chastened. His insistence on doing manual work, his long hair and beard, rumours that he writes poetry, evoke nothing but suspicion in the South Africa of the time.

Sometimes heartbreaking, often very funny, Summertime shows us a great writer as he limbers up for his task.

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