Youth by J. M. Coetzee

J. M. Coetzee’s Youth is a semi-fictionalized autobiographical novel, published in 2002. In the novel, a young man during the 1960s, after graduating in mathematics and English, flees South Africa and settles in London. He doesn’t want to cope with the political unrest in Cape Town. And he hopes to find a woman and to become a poet whilst living in London. However, these two goals elude him. He gets a job as a computer programmer. He finds the work tedious and feels like he’s suffocating. Also, he doesn’t feel like he fits in. His zest for life is being sucked out of him each day. To make matters worse, he no longer writes. He wants to succeed. He tries to challenge himself. But he always fails in his own eyes. Will the young man break out of this depression?

This is the fourth novel I’ve read by J. M. Coetzee and the second that I’ve reviewed for my project (I have eight more to go). The other novels were hard to read. Not because of the writing, but because of the subject matter. Oftentimes they include scenes of intense violence, animal abuse, and rape. Like I said, not easy reading.

When I spied a copy of this novel at the library I glanced at the back cover. This book is on my 1001 list so I knew at the time I would have to read it to complete my project. After reading the synopsis I checked it out of the library in hopes I wouldn’t be severely traumatized by the experience. I’m happy to report that I wasn’t.  I wouldn’t say that this novel is uplifting and unfortunately I found myself relating to the young man on more than one occasion. I think many of use leave university with grand ideas of what type of lives we’ll lead. Reality is much tougher to live with and it can be a disappointment. Working for a living can be a downer. That’s one of the reasons I started my blog, to focus on the fun aspects of life and not the tedious.

As for this novel, if you want to sample his writing, and I suggest that you do, this one isn’t too difficult to stomach. The Times states he is “One of the finest authors writing in the English language today.”

John Maxwell “J. M.” Coetzee was born in South Africa. Now he’s an Australian citizen and he resides in Adelaide. He has won many awards including the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Booker Prize twice, the CNA prize three times, and several others. He is a brilliant writer. I just wish his books weren’t so gut wrenching. Now I hope more of his books are more like this one—gloomy but tolerable. Here’s my review of Dusklands. He has eight more books on the 1001 list. He and Charles Dickens are tied for the most entries on the list.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American who's recently returned to the US after a seven-year stint in the UK and Ireland. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in New England, or reading. Not necessarily in that order. Her novels have hit Amazon bestseller lists for lesbian fiction and lesbian romance. She cohosts the Lesbians Who Write Podcast ( with Clare Lydon. TB also runs I Heart Lesfic (, a place for authors and fans of lesfic to come together to celebrate lesbian fiction.
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19 Responses to Youth by J. M. Coetzee

  1. excellent review – thanks for this

  2. Thank you for this review! I had avoided his novels for so long. I even bought “Disgrace” because I felt like I should read this highly regarded author. Then I’d heard from so many readers that his work can be quite difficult to come to terms with. I never felt I was in the right mind-set to read it so the book collected dust on my shelf.
    Now I will be happy to add “Youth” to my TBR list. I have a feeling this one will resonate with my life on several levels.

    • TBM says:

      It resonated with me. I felt the young man’s sense of loss and suffering. I’ve read Disgrace and it’s a tough read. Especially since you are a dog lover. I won’t go into too many details, but there are many difficult scenes in that one.

  3. lynnsbooks says:

    That is a great review! Not sure I want ‘gut wrenching’ just at the moment but I will make a note of this author for the future.
    Lynn 😀

    • TBM says:

      When I get a few more under my belt I’ll try to help you select one that isn’t so gut wrenching. I would advise you stay away from Disgrace and Waiting for the Barbarians. Those were gut wrenching for sure.

  4. I didn’t realize Coetzee had written so many books. Unfortunately, my first experience was “Disgrace,” which was pretty horrifying. It will be a while before I tackle his writing again. When I pick up a book that’s won literary prizes, I pretty much brace myself for a depressing tale.

  5. Colline says:

    This is one I have not read. The other books I read by him I enjoyed – especially as I know South African history.

  6. Fergiemoto says:

    Wow, “one of the finest authors” is quite impressive!
    Thanks for the review.

  7. I read Disgrace a few years back and haven’t been able to bring myself to read Coetzee since. He’s a great writer but I’m not usually in the mood for something that harrowing. Great review!

  8. Caroline says:

    It sounds like a very good novel.
    I have only read Disgrace and The Lives of Animals. The second is amazing. I liked Disgrace as well and didn’t find it all that bad to read.

    • TBM says:

      The one Coetzee book I really struggled with was Waiting for the Barbarians. However, it’s been a few years so I don’t remember it as well. Youth is a good introduction to his writing, even though it’s one of his later novel. I haven’t read The Lives of Animals.

  9. thx for this review. i’ve meant to read more by him since i read disgrace years ago with a book group. it was a challenging book to cover in group discussion.

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