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Slow Man

1 rating: 3.0
A book by J. M. Coetzee

Nobel-winner Coetzee (Disgrace) ponders life, love and the mind/ body connection in his latest heavy-hitter; he also plays a little trick. When retired photographer Paul Rayment loses his leg in a bicycle accident, his lengthy, lonely recuperation forces … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Cafe Libri
Author: J. M. Coetzee
Publisher: Penguin
1 review about Slow Man

A novel exploration of the writing process by a master novelist

  • Nov 28, 2009
Paul Rayment, out riding his bicycle, is hit by a car and loses a leg. He is a retired photographer, an aging divorcee, with no children, and nothing much left to live for, at least as he sees it. His Croatian nurse gives him something to care about. It is not so strange that he, an old man with few prospects, would fall in love with this strong willed and efficient younger woman who didn't treat him as a cripple, who saw him as just a man, a patient, but a man with some kind of future. What complicates things is that he wants to do something to insinuate himself into her life, into that of her children. He can't know what'll come of it, and doesn't think that far, but it's the only thing he knows to do, and he can't help along the way but declare his love for the woman whose benefactor he proposes to become. A futile gesture, that only makes things awkward; what makes it worse is that his sense of decency also keeps him from following up on the possibilities. He's a complicated man, but all too predictable. It is the kind of scenario that starts out with promise: a damaged man, a useless passion bringing with it possibilities even at this late juncture. But where to go with it? How to make it more than an intriguing beginning to a story?

Enter Elizabeth Costello, a novelist (and central character of two other Coetzee novels: The Lives of Animals and Elizabeth Costello) for whom the predicament of Rayment is paralyzing. She can't tell him what to do, but she needs and urges him to do something. He came to her, she says, and he can't quite understand what that means, but we gradually do understand as readers. He came to her, and she has to learn from him what he might do, and can't ever be quite satisfied with what he ends up doing. In frustration, she proposes alternatives, that he give up his useless passion, that he pursue something attainable, but isn't that what it is to be human (at least as Sartre has it), to be driven above all by passion and not utility? That he refuses makes Rayment perhaps frustrating, but certainly more interesting. What ensues with the introduction of Costello and the introduction of the complications that follow from Rayment's obstinate pursuit of a useless passion makes for a fascinating and provocative read. Perhaps not as revelatory or groundbreaking as Coetzee's most famous novel Disgrace, and I think this would be best read not as a stand alone novel but as the concluding novel of a Costello trilogy (a kind of "Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman"), but even on its own it would be well worth reading and certainly enjoyable.

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