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Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee

Elizabeth Costello
by J. M. Coetzee

A Review by Ann Ellenbecker ASIN/0142004812/ref=nosim/completereview

Elizabeth Costello is as good as fiction gets. Recently awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, J. M. Coetzee has surpassed his already transcendent talent for characterization with this divine portrayal of his most complicated protagonist to date, Australian novelist Elizabeth Costello.

Costello's life is gradually revealed through the lectures she gives around the world at college campuses, on cruise ships, and the like. Rather than speaking about her work, the aging author uses the platform to espouse her convictions. However, the manner in which she demonstrates these convictions inevitably lands her in trouble. For example, in her lectures about the rights of animals, she compares corporate farms to the concentration camp at Treblinka. When speaking on "The Problem of Evil," she finds the subject of one of her criticisms (author Paul West) seated at the back of the room.

Despite the strength of her convictions, Costello's real challenge comes at the book's conclusion when she is forced to publicly state her beliefs. Words have been her life-long companions; the teller of stories, her fate seems a simple one. But, words are of little help to her here. In this struggle, she must convince her judges, as well as herself, that a writer does more than imitate.

As always, Coetzee fills in the details with layer upon layer of spare, exquisite sentences, culminating in a rare and affecting reading experience.

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

In 1982, J. M. Coetzee dazzled the literary world with the now classic Waiting for the Barbarians. Five novels and two Booker prizes later, Coetzee is a writer of international stature and a novelist whose publication of a new work is heralded as a literary event. Now, in his first work of fiction since the New York Times bestselling Disgrace, he has crafted an unusual and deeply affecting tale.

Elizabeth Costello is a distinguished and aging Australian novelist whose life is revealed through an ingenious series of eight formal addresses. From an award-acceptance speech at a New England liberal arts college to a lecture on evil in Amsterdam and a sexually charged reading by the poet Robert Duncan, Coetzee draws the reader inexorably toward its astonishing conclusion.

Vividly imagined and masterfully wrought in his unerring prose, Elizabeth Costello is, on its surface, the story of a woman's life as mother, sister, lover, and writer. Yet it is also a profound and haunting meditation on the nature of storytelling that only a writer of Coetzee's caliber could accomplish.


"Elizabeth Costello has real novelistic force. Our pleasure is watching this fascinating woman wrestle with intellectual issues as if they are life-and-death matters -- and being convinced, in the end, that they are." Keir Graff, Booklist


"Costello's rigid morality and probing intelligence finally illuminate the fundamental question of what it means to be human. An intense and challenging novel; highly recommended." Library Journal


"Even more uncompromising than usual....It is a resounding achievement by Coetzee and one that will linger with the reader long after its reverberating conclusion." Publishers Weekly


"[D]oes Elizabeth Costello succeed artistically, as a work of fiction? The answer is yes, but more despite its metafictional superstructure than because of it....Coetzee's unflinching exploration of this desolate and strangely beautiful terrain represents the cruelest and best use to which literature can be put." The New York Times Book Review


Nobel Prize winner Coetzee has crafted an unusual and deeply affecting tale of an Australian novelist whose life is revealed through a series of eight formal addresses.

About the Author

J. M. Coetzee has won many literary awards, including the Nobel Prize, three CNA prizes (South Africa's premier literary award), two Booker prizes, the Prix Etranger Femina, the Jerusalem Prize, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. He lives in Australia.

Table of Contents

Realism -- Novel in Africa -- Lives of animals, the philosophers and the animals -- Lives of animals, the poets and the animals -- Humanities in Africa -- Problem of evil -- Eros -- At the gate -- Letter of Elizabeth, Lady Chandos.

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