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After The Childhood of Jesus and The Schooldays of Jesus, J. M. Coetzee completes his trilogy with a new masterwork, The Death of Jesus.
David has grown to be a tall ten-year-old. He is a natural at soccer, and loves kicking a ball around with his friends. His father Simón and Bolívar the dog usually watch. His mother Inés works in a fashion boutique.
David still asks lots of questions. In dancing class at the Academy of Music he dances as he chooses. He refuses to do sums and will not read any books except Don Quixote.
One day Julio Fabricante, the director of a nearby orphanage, invites David and his friends to form a proper soccer team. David decides he will leave Simón and Inés to live with Julio. Before long he succumbs to a mysterious illness.
In The Death of Jesus, J. M. Coetzee continues to explore the meaning of a world empty of memory but brimming with questions.
‘Coetzee is the most radical shapeshifter alive.’
‘Freed from literary convention, Mr Coetzee writes not to provide answers, but to ask great questions.’
‘Viewed as the culmination (if not necessarily the conclusion) of [Coetzee’s] long literary career, these distinctive late fictions achieve a remarkable synthesis of the influences, styles, and thematic preoccupations that have animated his work for the better part of half a century.’
‘197 pages that will last forever. The book is a masterpiece, the near-perfect culmination of a trilogy that only Coetzee could write…[H]e is the world’s greatest living writer.’
‘Everything in The Death of Jesus, like its predecessor volumes, is wrapped in a mystery that works and weaves like the half-remembered music of a dream…you are self-evidently in the presence of a masterpiece…The Death of Jesus is fiction of an order that dazzles the mind.’
‘The culmination of the masterwork of a sequence characterised by the power of its vision and the poignancy of its articulation, the work of a supreme master.‘
‘A poignant, beautifully executed conclusion to J. M. Coetzee’s most philosophical set of novels to date.‘
“A delicate, iridescent mystery.‘
‘The Death of Jesus brings Coetzee’s haunting but enigmatic Jesus trilogy to an end…as we read the affecting surface story it seems that there is some deeper vein in our consciousness being constantly tapped, as if beneath the straightforward text there rolls the ur-narratives of the Western canon.‘
‘[In The Death of Jesus] the trilogy rises to stretches of power and beauty…Coetzee is conducting a thought experiment. What does it look like when the truth arrives on Earth in the frail vessel of a human being? How can we recognize it? What do we grasp of it? In what ways does it change the world?‘
‘You could call him a novelist of ideas, but also a philosopher working in fiction…Many of Coetzee’s recent novels have the stripped-down quality of philosophical fable. His prose has never been ornamental, but in his later years it has grown particularly spare. This is not unpleasant; rather, it’s disorienting, then hypnotic. When Coetzee withholds back story, the reader must learn to tolerate mystery.’
‘The trilogy of novels that began with The Childhood of Jesus (2013) ends as enigmatically as it began…The novel, dense with veiled allegories and philosophical dialogues, challenges readers both to look for David’s message and to question whether it existed at all.’
‘The novel’s language is marked by the stiletto-like precision that has characterized Coetzee’s prose from the beginning: sharp-eyed and unsentimental. This time, however, it is even sparer, even more given over to dialogue—perhaps in an attempt to touch the untouchable zones of grief.’
‘Perhaps it’s because he’s more concerned with the metaphors than with what the metaphors are for that these novels don’t come across, in the end, as arid intellectual puzzles. Chapter by chapter, they have a lucid, playful quality, as though Coetzee is taking his preoccupations out for gentle strolls instead of subjecting them to remorseless Dostoevskian pressure…The new life’s fictive furniture is minimalist, a quality that’s even more pronounced in the third book. At the same time, the whole thing is suffused with feeling in a way that’s – as Beckett once wrote in a letter – “not the least little bit metaphysical or mystical”.’
‘What the reader will remember will be the pleasures available to anyone: the deadpan humor, the swoons of their melodramatic thriller plots, and the beguiling weirdness of the world Coetzee has constructed.’
‘A phenomenal achievement in fiction…The narrative is consistently moving and profound, and incredibly self-sufficient. It creates its own rules and contains everything it needs. To me the journey of the boy David and those around him came across as a fable about our inspiring but ultimately doomed search for meaning. It states the importance of caring for each other, of committing to care, even when social struggle and the worst tendencies of the human spirit get in the way. And in the end literature itself proves to be the strongest tool for meaning and maybe transcendence. I’m eager to read the whole thing again.’