"Something's in the Air"
The first time I read J. M. Coetzee, I was disappointed. I was a Master's student, taking a course in Postcolonial Literature and had signed up to do a project on Coetzee (we all had to choose one book on the syllabus on which we would make a presentation). My thought process went something like this: We're reading Heart of Darkness in this class. The edition of Conrad's novel we're reading is of the Penguin Twentieth Century Masterpieces series. J. M. Coetzee's Waiting For the Barbarians (1980), is also in that series. I like Heart of Darkness... perhaps the good people at Penguin share my tastes in literature. If they selected Conrad, maybe Coetzee's good, too. Therefore, I shall choose to present on Coetzee.
It probably also helped that the novel was slated to be discussed relatively late in the semester. In any case, I read and prepared a presentation on Waiting for the Barbarians, and remember not loving the book. I didn't exactly hate it, but I wasn't much more than lukewarm about it. I rather liked the nihilistic, absurd universe Coetzee created. I, perhaps not surprisingly, share the author's passion for Mr. Samuel Beckett and delighted in the resemblances.
But I found the book forgettable, in the end.
Now, when I picked up Disgrace (1999), I did not have the same expectations as I did when reading Coetzee's earlier novel. This time, however, I found myself really enjoying Coetzee. In fact, I like Disgrace enough to want to re-read Barbarians, to see if I missed something. That's how good this book is. Somehow Coetzee manages to add a vitality one would not expect out of a topic so stale as a sexual relationship between a Professor and student. Somehow, Coetzee took a character like Camus's Merseault and made him seem new, unique.