While riding his bicycle, Paul Rayment, a 60-year-old Australian photographer, is struck by a car. He winds up in the hospital, has a leg amputated, and returns to his quarters to contemplate his future and deal with a series of nurses sent by the hospital social worker. Paul is divorced and has no living family.

His future looks bleak, and none of the nurses is satisfactory until the appearance of Marijana, a middle-aged Croatian woman with a young daughter, a teenage son, and a husband. The narrator gradually falls in love with Marijana, but by degrees his lust sublimates into an intense devotion to helping her son Drago survive his motorcycle phase and achieve his educational and professional objectives.


This is a rich story of psychic negotiation following a serious accident. After his accident and amputation, Paul is miserable, and a series of immature nurses offer no solace, even though they are in a professional way caring intimately for his partially disabled body. He thinks of himself as "unstrung," in the Homeric sense. "The universe has contracted," he thinks, "and it will not expand again."

Things begin to change with the arrival of Marijana, who Paul decides is a person he wants to think well of him--and finally he finds himself in love with her! Her smile, and his volunteering to be Drago’s godfather, somehow give him back the life he thought he had lost, perhaps even the son he never had. This is a touching tale, with lots of material on patient self-image, spiritual recuperation, patient-caregiver relations, and the relation between disability and sexuality. Coetzee’s narrator delivers Paul’s world with a dry irony that lightens things in all but the darkest moments.


The Blow is an excerpt from Coetzee’s novel, Slow Man (Viking, 2005).

Primary Source

The New Yorker


Condé Nast

Place Published

New York


June 27, 2005, pp. 77-89