It’s only a writer of the calibre of Coetzee that can make a the banal story of an eccentric slightly socially awkward man appealing. In Summertime, Coetzee describes himself as seen through the lives of those around him. After his fictional death a biographer is attempting to write about Coetzee by interviewing the people that knew him. Summertime is the story that results. In writing this novel, Coetzee paints a portrait of himself during the 70’s. It takes courage to do this. There is little understanding in the tales people tell of their neighbours, lovers, colleagues; people tend to recite the actions of others as they see it. They tell of his actions without the prelude that could justify it if the book was an autobiography, where the writer himself has an opportunity to present excuses for his behaviour. And so we see Coetzee through this book, not as he sees himself, but as other people in his life saw him. The character described, if it weren’t for his talent as an author, in any other man’s shoes would be unflattering and ineffectual - like a mop something to be pushed around. A limp handshake. Spineless. A cold fish. A black hole that drains the life from those around him. The following do not apply: a Casanova, devilish rogue, fun loving criminal, the life of the party. Yet despite his staid persona his writing is heartfelt and sincere, and able to evoke the readers emotions. In typical fashion his prose is terse however it is a testament to his skill as a writer that he can still draw the reader into this tale of a very ordinary existence.
I found this book emotionally difficult to read. There were times in the novel I felt that he was describing me. His asexual nature; his inability to form a connection with women; his relationship with his father that felt like something out of duty rather than love; the feeling of being an outsider and some sort of social failure - they are all themes that resonate with me. It’s one of the few books that made me cry.