Readersforum's Blog

March 14, 2013

Book reviews roundup: The Childhood of Jesus, Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters, and Who Owns the Future?

JM Coetzee's latest book has caused confusion and frustration among the critics.

JM Coetzee’s latest book has caused confusion and frustration among the critics.

What the critics thought of The Childhood of Jesus by JM Coetzee, Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters by Jane Dunn and Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier

On Radio 4’s Saturday Review, Aminatta Forna pronounced JM Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus “possibly the most opaque novel I have ever read”. Even the London Evening Standard’s literary editor David Sexton (who has “followed [Coetzee] closely since Disgrace in 1999″) found it “quite puzzling and difficult to evaluate … frustrating, despite its strange beauty”. “Will Coetzee explain?” he asked plaintively. In the Sunday Times, Peter Kemp called it “a rejigged version of gospel accounts of Jesus’s childhood” with a portrait of a Spanish-speaking utopia defined by “tepid decency”. “Fans of Coetzee’s fictional ambiguities may relish this book’s obfuscations,” Kemp concluded caustically. “Others will find reading it about as exciting as eating the saltless bean paste its characters subsist on.” But the novelists invited to assess the double Man Booker prizewinner’s latest were warily favourable. In the Observer, Benjamin Markovits found it “puzzling” and “odd” but praised it wanly as “a somewhat magical escape act … he invents new predicaments, chapter by chapter, and resolves them”. Salley Vickers, in the Times, blamed putting Jesus in the title for unhelpfully prompting “a hunt for clues”, which “distracts from the novel’s more haunting reverberations”. Others took a more scholarly approach, with the Literary Review’s Keith Miller mentioning Renan, Berlioz, Cervantes, Borges, Joyce and Dostoevsky, while the New Statesman’s Leo Robson (who cited some of the same figures, plus Beckett) saw it as a “boondoggling and unfestive” instance of Coetzee’s efforts to return to the “hybrid roots” of the novel genre.

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