When Paul Rayment, a retired Australian photographer without family, loses his leg in a bicycle accident, he refuses a prosthesis and is forced to recuperate at home. Depressed, introspective, and dependent on others for the first time in his adulthood, Rayment reflects on his wasted life. The arrival of a Croatian day nurse and her son lifts his spirits and piques his love interest. Amid his romantic reveries, the mysterious writer Elizabeth Costello—eponymous heroine of Elizabeth Costello (2003), who lectured on the evils of eating meat—drops in and reveals to Rayment that he is a main character in her novel Slow Man. While she urges him to wrest control of his life, the characters meditate on the relationships between identity and writing, love and mortality, and truth and humanity.
Viking. 208 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670034592
"Both his writing and his thought processes are intellectual and stark, echoing the mathematician he once was. And for someone as concerned with humans in all their frailty as he is, there’s surprisingly little juice in his characters." Nancy Connors
"[Coetzee] has abandoned apparently the dialectic between the personal and the political that rendered his novels so rich and brimming with tension, ambiguity, and purpose." Joan Mellen
NY Times Book Review
"I take this novel to be a scrutiny of disappointment and irresolution, a chicken-and-egg affair that does not yield satisfactory answers. Still, Coetzee’s narrative is a bracing corrective to the blustering do-not-go-gentle-into-that-good-night." Ward Just
"All of this unfolds with Coetzee’s signature brilliance, a mixture of penetrating insight and brittle wit that forces our attention on common terrors we don’t want to think about: the fragility of health, the loneliness of old age, the limits of medical care. … [T]he more troubling mystery is why one of the world’s most celebrated writers would abandon the dramatic structure and implicit truth-telling of novels in favor of hectoring his characters and lecturing at his readers." Ron Charles
"Coetzee has sacrificed his characters for his ponderous hypotheses about love and legacy and leaving a trace in the world." Gail Caldwell
San Jose Mercury News
"Slow Man is undeniably perceptive about many things, and throughout it there is the pleasure of watching a brilliant mind at work and play. But when a novelist gets too self-conscious about writing a novel, he or she probably can’t give us what we really want a novel to do: feel like life—unmediated life." Charles Matthews
Christian Science Monitor
"It is meant to be a meditation on how the body affects our identity and about the writing process. Instead, Slow Man has the distinction of being the worst novel I’ve read by a Nobel winner." Yvonne Zipp
Is it the responsibility of Nobel Prize winners to showcase their brilliance or ensure a strong readership? If intelligent readers don’t understand the author, what’s the point? The Washington Post likened Slow Man to "an episode of The Twilight Zone by John Barth," with the feeling "that it means something important," even while this meaning remains elusive. Simply, Coetzee’s postmodern literary trick overwhelms what could have been a provoking rumination on love, old age, and life. Instead, the novel flounders under the weight of ambiguity, cerebral analysis, and lack of scintillating conversation and action. Even readers up for a challenge may be frustrated: it would be better for them to start with the award-winning Disgrace (1999).
Disgrace (1999): In a thinly disguised University of Cape Town during the Mandela era, a twice-divorced professor of classics and modern languages falls into "moral turpitude" when he seduces a student.