Quotable: J.M. Coetzee

I’m about half way through final edits for my new novel, The Outsider, and I am so tired these days I can barely keep my eyes open past eight p.m. While reading Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year the other day, I had to smile at this exchange between Señor C., an aging novelist, and Anya, the attractive neighbor he has hired to be his secretary:

A novel? No. I don’t have the endurance any more. To write a novel you have to be like Atlas, holding up a whole world on your shoulders and supporting it there for months and years while its affairs work themselves out. It is too much for me as I am today.

Still, I said, we have all got opinions, especially about politics. If you tell a story at least people will shut up and listen to you. A story or a joke.

Stories tell themselves, they don’t get told, he said. That much I know after a lifetime of working with stories. Never try to impose yourself. Wait for the story to speak for itself. Wait and hope that it isn’t born deaf and dumb and blind. I could do that when I was younger. I could wait patiently for months on end. Nowadays I get tired. My attention wanders.

I love the comparison with Atlas. How apt.