Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year

August 8, 2007

An excerpt from J.M. Coetzee’s upcoming novel, Diary of a Bad Year, recently appeared in the New York Review, and it’s available online. The form of the story is intriguing: the text alternates between a book being written by the protagonist and his attempts to speak with a wildly attractive woman living in his building. Coetzee is always in perfect command, and adopts different voices well, so I think the alternations could work over the length of the novel. Here is a snippet from the “essay” portion:

The Seven Samurai is a film in complete command of its medium yet naive enough to deal simply and directly with first things. Specifically it deals with the birth of the state, and it does so with Shakespearean clarity and comprehensiveness. In fact, what The Seven Samurai offers is no less than the Kurosawan theory of the origin of the state.

The writer-protagonist is laying out an extended argument, using many authors and examples to speak broadly about the origins of the state. The “essay” will then be interrupted by his first-person voice:

She has black black hair, shapely bones. A certain golden glow to her skin, lambent might be the word. As for the bright red shift, that is perhaps not the item of attire she would have chosen if she were expecting strange male company in the laundry room at eleven in the morning on a weekday. Red shift and thongs. Thongs of the kind that go on the feet. 

All told, Diary of a Bad Year is fine reading, and does exactly what an excerpt should do: pique interest for the whole of the text.



  1. I enjoyed the Seven Samurai. ALthough it was at first difficult to follow, the story lines are epic.

  2. Oh, and did not know about it. Thanks for the information …

  3. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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