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.