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    Sobriquet 54.3

    Sunday, May 3, 2009
    When I read James Wood's review of Disgrace last August, his contemptuous tone left a bad taste in my mouth, and I said so in the post I wrote that day. Today, with some curiosity, I picked up Mr. Wood's write-up of Elizabeth Costello and was somewhat surprised by the near-reverent language with which the critic assesses the novel.

    Wood, of course, is one of the world's better English-language literary critics and, when a novel piques his interest or evokes his passion for literature, he tends to pen some of the most insightful and assessable reviews you'll ever come across. Happily, his review of Elizabeth Costello falls into this category. After dismissing the understandable aversion some readers have to the author's curious framing of the novel and positing that Coetzee is not simply "protecting himself by pre-empting criticism" or shying away from taking ownership of often unreasonable ideas, Wood insists, rather lyrically, that the then newly-minted Nobel Laureate has crafted a supreme defense of literature and emotion against the unfeeling onslaughts of some of the modern world's more disarmingly rational approaches to existence. Ultimately, Wood argues, Elizabeth Costello "inclines towards death" while celebrating the beauty of the sympathetic possibilities of the human imagination.

    Recently, I also read Rebecca Ascher-Walsh's dismissal of the novel as a "near miss," Adrienne Miller's generous assessment of the book as a highly effective novel of ideas, and  D. J. Taylor's seemingly reluctant embrace of Coetzee's difficult text. Wood's review, though, is by far the most insightful of the lot.

    For tomorrow: Read or plan.

    Works Cited:

    Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca. Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. EW.com. 17 Oct. 2003. Available online.

    Miller, Adrienne. "Great Writing About Not Writing." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. Esquire 22 Oct. 2003. Available online.

    Taylor, D. J. Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. The Independent 30 Aug. 2003. Available online.

    Wood, James. "A Frog's Life." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. London Review of Books 23 Oct. 2003. Available online.

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