Coetzee in review

David Lodge reviews Elizabeth Costello for the NYRoB. A portion of the book, in which Costello compares the industrial production of meat to the treatment of Jews by the Nazis, had already been published as “The Tanner Lectures” in 1999, and, Lodge says,

Not surprisingly most of the commentators felt somewhat stymied by Coetzee’s meta-lectures, by the veils of fiction behind which he had concealed his own position from scrutiny. There was a feeling, shared by some reviewers of the book, that he was putting forward an extreme, intolerant, and accusatory argument without taking full intellectual responsibility for it.
Encountered in its new context, as Lessons Three and Four of Elizabeth Costello, “The Lives of Animals” no longer seems vulnerable to such criticism. The character of Elizabeth in the novel is a much more rounded figure, with a much more complex history, and is preoccupied with more than one ethical or philosophical issue.

Lodge proceeds to detail the many similarities between the character of Elizabeth Costello and Coetzee himself, and the individual chapters (called “Lessons”) that make up the book, including one in which the novelist Paul West is a character in the book.

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