In perhaps the greatest scoop of the year, specialists with the Nassau Weekly Department of Literary Espionage discovered an advance copy of J.M. Coetzee’s newest work in the men’s room stall of “The Mother of All Bathrooms” on the 300 level of Frist over intersession break. Coetzee, a South African expatriate, won the literary world’s highest honor—the Nobel—this year to wide acclaim. His novels include Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace . Coetzee’s most recent novel, Elizabeth Costello, dealt with a celebrated public intellectual whose nomadic travels all over the world bring her in touch with her long lost brother, Elvis, a down-on-his-luck musician. During this encounter Elizabeth achieves self-knowledge, and realizes that her soul had been hindered by such fame. Elizabeth, although a woman character, has traits that echo the autobiographical protagonists from many of Coetzee’s previous works—lonely, old, deceptively smart men. Publishing Elizabeth Costello as the heels of his Nobel, Coetzee seemed to be sending a message to the literary world that he scarcely could stand their abundant attention and even their interest in his work. But what message does this new, as yet untitled novel send to his readers and to the literarati? Is it an acute encounter with bigotry? An account of personal loss? A misanthropic reaction to his prominence? Or something completely different? Let’s find out!
From Chapter 2:
…The Tuesday afternoon ritual had become, in a manner of words, disturbing. I wore the key to Diane’s family cabin along the Cape coast on a lanyard around my neck. All week the lanyard rubbed and chafed against the hairy back of my neck. Only on Tuesdays would I remove it, so the key could unlock the cabin’s wooden door. When I would arrive at 3 in the afternoon, I would leave open the door to allow the warm water breeze to flow through the small house and push around the stale air that had been for trapped for the past six days. I often felt like taking off my shoes and socks and unbuttoning my shirt and running over the sad lawn toward beach to stand ankle deep in the water. Instead I always just waited inside the cabin, churning over in my head the reasons I kept returning here week after week while the breezes cooled my passions.
Usually an hour later, Faraja would arrive in silence, her bare feet making no sound against the wooden floorboards. I think she owned only this one dress that she always wore. The fabric was of a simple cotton and the floral pattern was something one would be more likely to find a small girl wearing instead of a woman. Faraja never wore underwear when she met me for this rendezvous, but I don’t think she ever wore them either. Today I was sitting near the window looking through a childhood photo album of Diane’s when Faraja stepped in the cabin. We exchanged no greetings, but I stared at her for several uncomfortable seconds until she undressed.
“It has been a long week, Faraja. A long and stressful week.” I said. Her pendulous breast now swayed before me and I spoke about my troubles and the events that had befallen my business since our last encounter. “The drought in getting worse, Faraja. You know Modibo, the boy I hired to mind the dogs? He found four of the yesterday in the middle of one of the fields, all huddled together, dead. They were so thirsty they must have tried walking toward the river 5 miles away. But in this heat they could not make it.” She just stared at the ground, nervously nodding. I don’t think she has ever made eye contact with me. “And on Saturday we discovered rats hat been in the warehouse for months. Rat shit is everywhere. So much merchandise ruined. This will cost be thousands of rands. And it all could have been stopped by a few cheap traps, you know.”
She could care less about my stories and the events of my life, I knew. Faraja only wanted to get it over with, as soon as she could, and then forget I even existed until next week. I led her toward Diane’s childhood bed at the other end of the room, the bed where my ex-wife had slept over so many vacations, through so many thunderstorms that bombarded the Cape, where she had had her first kiss, her first period, and where she had learned about history and geography from that ugly governess who died a few hears back. I sat Faraja down, removing my belt and with it tying her wrists together behind the railing. The brown leather of the belt seemed to be the same perfect shade as her brown skin.
With Faraja bound in this position I quickly became aroused. She kept her almond eyes closed tight while I removed my clothes: the farmer overalls and fiftycotton/fiftypoly blend t-shirt, my threadbare socks, and the crocodile-skin cowboy boots given to me by an Aussie client from a posh neighborhood in Melbourne. Her closed eyes did not see the slack skin which hung off my bony white body, sagging in the middle, below pairs of protruding ribs. Faraja shuddered when I entered her, but also grinned as I kissed her body. And she never says one word…
From Chapter 6:
…This morning I filled the roller-suitcase with several days worth of clothes, a pair of swimming trunks, and my camera. About 50,000 rands, the very last of my savings, were stuffed into brown paper bag. Walking out the door just now I forgot, then remembered my passport and the tickets for my one-way cruise. The drive toward the coast allows me to see for the last time those dead brown fields I own where every gust of wind from sea kicks up a clouds of dirt from the dry earth. I will probably miss driving around the country in my truck, listening to BBC news on the AM radio.
It takes close to three hours for me to arrive at the port. I can see the giant white ship floating beside the dock as if it were featherlight. It is called the “Pacific Princess.” Holding my South African passport, I slowly step forward in a queue toward the gangway. There is a gay couple in front of me speaking in Afrikaans. Both of these guys are thin and fit and demonstrative in their conversation with a great deal of hand movement and facial expressions. When they recognize me as a fellow Afrikaner, they slow their speech, as if attempting to hide from my probable eavesdropping. The queue is long, and after a while we begin to talk.
“So you are South African? Where are you from, man?” I am asked by the taller of the two.
“I grew up near Pretoria. But I have been living here is Australia for nearly 25 years.”
“No shit, man,” says the other. “Going back for a visit, then?”
“I am returning for good, my friend,” I told them.
They introduced themselves to me as Vinnie Barbarino and Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington, but our conversation ended when they found themselves at the head of the queue. They had the ship’s bursar, who acted like he was gay, too, take a picture of them before they disappeared onto the ship.
Aboard the Pacific Princess my cabin was cramped and deceptively well accommodated. I placed my bag of cash underneath the bed and stretched out atop the covers. The drive and been long and sunny and I was already tired. I did not look forward to the 8 day long cruise. We would be putting into several ports of call throughout the Indian Ocean along the way—Perth, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Reunion—I had heard from others that each would have its own selection girls and drugs. Most of my sources agreed that Thai twelve year-olds and Ecstasy were the best combination. I told everyone that I was too traumatized to fly, but secretly I chose cruises for the whores. I already knew that I would bring them back to this little, windowless room as soon I could find them, spending the evenings pumping away, their impervious faces showing no hint of pleasure from my slack, sagging, half-tan/half-pale skin. While I was daydreaming there was a knock at the door. When I opened it the black steward handed me a note and said, “From the Captain” and then walked away. The captain of the Pacific Princess was Merrill Stubbing, an Aussie who I had met years ago in Sydney. We were friends for a little while, but had lost touch for at least a decade and I had no idea that he had gone into the cruise ship business. He had seen my name on the ship’s roster, and was inviting me up for a drink to his cabin. I actually weighed the offer in my mind, but quickly decided to go. Slipping the note into my pocket, I checked myself in the mirror and walked out toward the bridge…
Golly! That J.M. Coetzee sure is great! This novel is totally awesome! I couldn’t put it down! Why, it’s nothing but a masterpiece in the genre of skinny old white men having sex with exotic ethnic women! Even at this early stage, it is simple for this reviewer to see that Coetzee’s latest novel will be his greatest yet.