Coetzee in Top Form

Powerful and poetic … This book will continue to act, silently and unexpectedly, on the reader’s imagination. Financial Times

“The Schooldays of Jesus”

By Roger Childs

In reality it is the schooldays of David – six years going on seven.

It’s also about the on-going education of Simón who has taken over the father’s role. He is supporting the boy’s mother, Inés, as they move to the town of Estrella in an unidentified country in southern Europe.

Two time Booker Prize winner, J M Coetzee, tells the story in the present and he lets the reader surmise on much of what might have gone before.

He doesn’t waste time on filling out the detailed background on people and places, and in The Schooldays of Jesus characterisation deepens with the unfolding events in Estrella.

Questions, so many questions!

David, which may not be his given name, is a talented youngster who is always asking questions. Inés sometimes tires of providing answers, but Simón is determined not to avoid responding to the queries, even when they touch on adult topics like sex, rape and death.

The two adults are not in a relationship and the common ground is the inquisitive and impressionable lad. Finding a school is the big issue and ultimately David is enrolled at the Academy of Dance, in preference to the Academy of Music.

It is here that David meets and strongly identifies with Senor Arroyo and his wife Ana Magdalena who run the school. He also grows closer to the enigmatic Dmitri, whose actions have a huge impact on the main characters and the townspeople.

A master craftsman

As ever, J M Coetzee manages to dodge every category with mesmeric cunning … The Independent

Coetzee was born in South Africa and a number of his novels like Disgrace and the Life & Times of Michael K are set in that country. He has been an English Professor in many universities, is a highly perceptive literary reviewer and now lives in Adelaide. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

His creativity and experimentation with plot and form make him impossible to pigeonhole. All his books are superb and if you haven’t read any of them, there is no particular volume to start on. Whatever you select will be a highly rewarding experience.

The Schooldays of Jesus is another fine novel from his pen and, although fundamentally a simple story, it will keep you thinking about many elements of the human existence: numbers and the universe; the arts and learning; impulse and justice.

 

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