“Read not to contradict and confute, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.”
But for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.
For our most recent literary loss.
“Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
With an impressive ten books on the list, this is surprisingly the first Coetzee to be reviewed on this site. A Nobel Prize winner and two-time Booker prize winner, this South African native is one of the most highly lauded modern day authors Coetzee (pronounced kut-si) cannot be overlooked any longer.
Set at the colonial settlement of an undefined (sidebar: I really feel I have to stress the undefined Empire. For some reason, and I think because I knew Coetzee is South African, I really thought it was set in Africa and got a little thrown when they started talking about the approaching snowy winter and when our Magistrate adopted a wolf cub. I’m not going to assume that any other readers are as presumptuous as I am, but just in case, undefined.), “Empire”, our narrator is the magistrate, having been appointed to the post some twenty years earlier. Over this time he has grown to know and respect the indigenous people of the area, referred to as the Barbarians. When a new Colonel arrives due to the news of some disturbance by the Barbarians, the Magistrate becomes more and more uncomfortable of the treatment of the Barbarians at the hand of this new authority. When a relationship develops between himself and a Barbarian girl, he leaves to return her to her people, further emphasising his sympathies and when he returns is branded a traitor to the cause.
This is an all encompassing story of a flawed man with very noble intentions. As the Magistrate is our narrator, we, the reader, are able to hear his most intimate thoughts and motivations and his own painful awareness of his flaws. There is no self delusion here, or even delusion in his role in the Empire, or in the Empire itself.
For I was not, as I liked to think, the indulgent pleasure-loving opposite of the cold rigid Colonel. I was the lie that the Empire tells itself when times are easy, he the truth that the Empire tells when harsh winds blow. Two sides of imperial rule, no more, no less.
The story itself is moving, because at its very basic it is about a man who is persecuted for being a decent human being. History itself dictates that these type of atrocities happened and still do happen. And yet, to have this tale told from the perspective of someone in power, is a compelling read. His fall from power, the resulting suffering he experiences both physically and mentally all leading to a bittersweet redemptive conclusion is laid out with a masterful hand. Coetzee paints a very real man in an artfully described surroundings, surroundings not specific to a time and location so could be at any time in history, anywhere.
This book is well written, as well it should be as not only is it on the list but has at its helm on of the most highly regarded authors of modern time. But the strength in my opinion is the sympathy and emotion evoked, an absorption into the story that leaves the reader mulling over it long after they are finished reading it. This is not a happy read, and is quite heavy going in parts which is not unexpected given the subject matter, but it is a great read and one I highly recommend.
Before I begin it has been years since I have sat down and written any kind of book review so forgive me for being slightly rusty in this area. I also must mention that this book is a sequel to The Rainbow although I did not realise that until I was about half way through, I cannot say it impacted at all but perhaps might be best to read that book first.
The central characters are sisters, Gudrun and Ursula. Gudrun is an artist and Ursula is a school teacher in the 1910’s in the Midlands, England.
As the story progresses the 2 love interests arrive into the lives of the sisters. Gerald Crich the son of a coal mine owner becomes Gudrun’s love interest and Rupert Birkin a school inspector and Gerald’s friend becomes Ursula’s.
The two central relationships that develop are not your typical boy meets girl ones with them all living happily ever after. The relationships are somewhat tainted with politics, social standings, the place of men and women in society and their own individual inward battles.
It also becomes quite clear as the novel evolves that there is quite a strong love between Gerald and Rupert but there are too many internal and external barriers to prevent them being together. There are definite descriptions of subtle homoeroticism which whilst would be considered tame these days would no doubt have potentially been quite the controversy back when this novel was written.
It must be mentioned also that despite the fact there is often discussion of love and a repeated asking of “Do you love me?” between characters it seems there is also a self filled hatred of love, almost a disgust of it, a total inability to take it as a joyful emotion within each character which overrides a lot of conversation and inner thoughts.
In terms of the characters themselves Gerald is a cruel, very pessimistic man who totally overrules Ursula and who verges on evil and dangerous which becomes more apparent near the ending. Birkin is less harsh and more loving towards Gundrun but I got the feeling that neither man loves either sister, they just say the words, they just do what is expected and that as a result it only adds to their bitterness towards life.
Overall I would say that I enjoyed the book and that with a bit of persistence it is worth reading. There is a lot of flowery language and internal conflicts that can be a bit over the top intertwined with some discussion that can be a bit self absorbed but overall as I said I enjoyed it and I would recommend it.