Diary of a Bad Year

Coetzee, J. M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler
  • Date of entry: Jun-18-2008
  • Last revised: Jun-16-2008



A well-respected, but aging and infirm author living in Australia has been invited to submit his thoughts on the world to a German publisher. Consisting first of his 'Strong Opinions' on contemporary sociopolitical controversies (such as terrorism, paedophilia, Al Qaeda) and then his 'softer' opinions (on such topics as birds, compassion, Dostoevsky and writing), these short essays lie across the top of the page. Beneath them run one, then two narratives, laid out like ribbons underneath. These consist of the story of the writer's relationship with Anya, and of Anya's relationship with her boyfriend in light of her interactions with the writer, including his plan to scam the author out of his money.


Running throughout these running narratives are concerns about aging, coming to the end of one's career and one's love life, becoming dependent on other people, and the compassion or cruelty of those who surround us.

Coetzee continues to play with notions of voice and authorship, drawing upon private conversations, thoughts, arguments about the content of the 'opinions' and letters as texts underneath the transcribed 'opinions', which are themselves written by a proxy for Coetzee (the narrator of the opinions claims to be the author of 'Waiting for the Barbarians' (pg 171), another Coetzee novel - I suppose we can be grateful that Elizabeth Costello [a character in several of Coetzee's novels] doesn't show up, because then we really would be down the Coetzean rabbit hole of authorial intent). Coetzee has frequently challenged simple notions about how authors' views and beliefs inform their fiction, and so 'Diary of a Bad Year' is not a gentle parody of celebrity opinion-mongering. Rather, the 'opinions' interlace with the narratives underneath them in subtle ways, and together they craft a sometimes pulpy and sometimes achingly nimble narrative about the concerns of modern life and fiction: loneliness, our obligations to one another, terrorism, torture, and what we can do for one another.



Place Published

New York



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