LATE ESSAYS: 2006-2017 By J. M. Coetzee

I’ve enjoyed reading J. M. Coetzee’s two other essay collections–Stranger Shores: Literary Essays 1986-1999 and Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000-2005. You can read my reviews here and here. This recently published volume, Late Essays: 2006-2017 explores the same mix of familiar and unfamiliar writers as the previous collections did. I enjoyed reading about Daniel Defoe, Hawthorne, Ford Madox Ford, and Philip Roth. I was less enthralled with “Translating Holderlin” and Heinrich von Kleist. Coetzee has some keen insights about Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and the writings of Leo Tolstoy.

The strength of Late Essays is the four essays on Samuel Beckett. I learned Beckett was stabbed on the streets of Paris. While he was recovering from his wounds in a hospital, Beckett learned another language (German, because he was infatuated by a German girl). Beckett eventually wrote only in French. And Becket helped James Joyce edit the manuscript that would become Finnegans Wake. If you’re in the mood for some very readable literary essays, I recommend Coetzee. GRADE: A-
1. Daniel Defoe, Roxana 1
2. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The scarlet letter 12
3. Ford Madox Ford, The good soldier 23
4. Philip Roth’s tale of the plague 35
5. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The sorrows of young Werther 59
6. Translating Hölderlin 62
7. Heinrich von Kleist : two stories 85
8. Robert Walser, The assistant 95
9. Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary 104
10. Irène Némirovsky, Jewish writer 113
11. Juan Ramón Jiménez, Platero and I 130
12. Antonio Di Benedetto, Zama 134
13. Leo Tolstoy, The death of Ivan Ilyich 152
14. On Zbigniew Herbert 159
15. The young Samuel Beckett 169
16. Samuel Beckett, Watt 185
17. Samuel Beckett, Molloy 192
18. Eight ways of looking at Samuel Beckett 202
19. Late Patrick White 218
20. Patrick White, The solid mandala 234
21. The poetry of Les Murray 243
22. Reading Gerald Murnane 259
23. The diary of Hendrik Witbooi 273
Notes and References 283
Acknowledgements 295

12 thoughts on “LATE ESSAYS: 2006-2017 By J. M. Coetzee

  1. Deb

    Not sure this is my cup of tea, but MOLLOY is my favorite Beckett work with its wonderful final lines, “It is midnight, it is raining. It is not midnight, it is not raining.” Love it!

    1. george Post author

      Deb, I’m a big Samuel Beckett fan, too. I’ve seen WAITING FOR GODOT six times. You would enjoy Coetzee’s essays on Beckett in this volume.

      1. Jeff Meyerson

        Jackie is not a big GODOT fan but I like it. We saw it in 1978 at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), with Sam Waterston, Austin Pendleton, and Milo O’Shea.

      2. george Post author

        Jeff, some people like Beckett’s work, others don’t. The same goes for James Joyce. I love THE DUBLINERS but find FINNEGANS WAKE incomprehensible.

  2. Dan

    Not to change the subject, but a line in your review caught my attention. “Becket helped James Joyce edit the manuscript that would become Finnegans Wake.”

    You mean to tell me FINNEGAN’S WAKE was edited?

    1. george Post author

      Dan, apparently FINNEGANS WAKE was edited. I thought it was a solo project with just James Joyce working on it, but now I know Samuel Beckett had a hand in it, too.

  3. Jeff Meyerson

    I’m sure you will be shocked to learn that I still haven’t caught up with the earlier collections, but I really should. Essays are like short stories for me, a good way to cleanse the palate between novels.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, I admire Coetzee’s range. His essays really cover writers from different time periods and genres. You’ll get a lot of palate cleansing from Coetzee’s essay collections!

  4. Michael Padgett

    I’ve read just one novel by Coetzee, the Booker Prize winning “Disgrace”, and remember liking it quite a bit. As with many other writers who made a great first impression, I failed to follow up. Story of my life.

      1. wolf

        The breadth of the authors written on from Goethe to Beckett is fantastic, but as George says:
        Too many (good …) books, too little time.
        And don’t even mention the “bad” books whose number is even greater!
        I have to admit that many of the names don’t mean anything to me though via the America House I thought to keep up with American literature – obviously I was wrong …

      2. george Post author

        Wolf, I try to follow European writers, but few periodicals review books in translation. It’s frustrating!

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