To me, Coetzee was always the author who won the booker prize twice. Despite the intentions to read him, I never happened to pick anything by him. Then suddenly while browsing in a bookstore last week, I stumbled upon two of his titles which I could not resist buying. One was The Master of Petersburg and the other was Youth.
I work full time and am a really slow reader. Despite all the limitations, I finished both the books in 4 days straight (a personal best for me). I know (from whatever I have found on different literary blogs etc.) that these two are not considered to be amongst the best of Coetzee. However, for me, they shall remain the books that I discovered the genius of Coetzee from.
I do not intend to outline the plot of either, therefore no spoiler warnings.
The Master of Petersburg has Dostoevsky as the protagonist. As if that was not enough, Coetzee has delved into deep and tricky themes such as a father-son relationship, death of a young son, marriage, relationships, sex, politics, revolution, communism, et all. Whether you like the plot or not, and I believe you will like it, this book deserves your time for the sheer pleasure of literary courage. I am in awe of Coetzee to have attempted and masterfully executed a fiction based on Dostoevsky with such difficult themes. After finishing Crime and Punishment and The BrothersKaramazov, I was a little disappointed that the world of Dostoevsky was over for me. With this book, I felt like I was visiting the dressing room area of that world.
Youth on the other hand will remain special forever for the connection that I could make with it. The theme is – a young guy, an artist by inclination but not by profession or training and his venture into the world. It is not possible for me to describe here, but anyone who has thought of himself as an ‘artist’ waiting for the right moment but-continuing-with-the-shit-for-the-time-being in his youth will be surprised to see how much of him Coetzee has been able to portray in the book. It is an honest, scary, but true description of how we let things happen to us despite best intentions; about the insane circle of reality that makes us let our desired life stay away from us. Coetzee beautifully portrays how an artist by inclination not pursuing art is not an artist-in-the-waiting; he is dead.
There is not much that is required to be said about Coetzee here, people have said enough. I only confirm that in my experience in these two books – he is better than his name.