by J. M. Coetzee
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In a famous cartoon by Achille Lemot, Gustave Flaubert holds up the heart of Emma Bovary impaled on a knife. A similar picture could be drawn of J. M. Coetzee. Even though he is an outspoken vegetarian and defender of animal rights, Coetzee has no qualms about subjecting his characters to the cruelest vivisection. His instrument is a third-person narrator who enjoys unrestricted access to the minds and hearts of his characters. Recently, Coetzee has applied the technique to his own person. In the two autobiographical volumes Boyhood (1997) and Youth (2002), he dissects the young John Coetzee like a surgeon operating on himself.
Youth leaves Coetzee in 1964 as a young man at loose ends in London. In Summertime, the third installment of Coetzee's autobiography, we find him in his thirties, back home in South Africa. He is living with his father, for whom the child of Boyhood expresses fierce contempt, in an outskirt of Cape Town, trying to make ends meet with an unglamorous teaching job. His activities as a writer go largely unmentioned. Instead, we learn about his affair with a neighbor's wife, his visits to the family farm, his awkward infatuation with the desired mother of his student, and his reputation as a competent but unenthusiastic teacher.
Summertime mainly describes a few years in the '70s; the intervening time since London is only suggested through ominous hints. We gather that Coetzee moved to the United States and ran afoul of the law. In fact, Coetzee spent many formative years in the States, until he, together with forty-four other faculty members, occupied