Friday, September 21, 2012

The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit.

The Hyrdo Building. Corner of Davey and Elizabeth Streets. July 2012.

Life & Times of Michael K by J.M.Coetzee is set in a vividly imagined South Africa of the 1970s that has descended into civil war. While the setting is important, the novel itself eschews discussions of race or class and concentrates on the journey of the titular character, a simple man whose life has been shaped by institutionalism from a very young age.

In this sense, Coetzee has opted for using an innocent as the central character. It's a tricky ploy, as the simpleton remains simple throughout and - for the reader at least - the state of purity, innocence and grace can be a limiting thing.

The story is told well, with a tale full of ugly and sad scenes, and very few glimmers of hope or beauty. Despite such scenes, it is quite a desolate book. There is only a vague, ominous sense of how bad things really are in the greater society and while Michael K. serves as the vehicle to paint this story of survival and isolation, 'simpleton' is perhaps not the most effective choice to portray the individual struggling against a society gone awry.

The innocent of course must stand above and beyond it all, untouched by the mortal sin. I enjoyed this book, but the underlying messages - ignore the world around you? Don't think? - does trouble me somewhat. B+