Readersforum's Blog

May 15, 2013

Here and Now: Letters, 2008-2011 by Paul Auster and JM Coetzee, review

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 12:28 pm

coetzeenewcover_2553011aIn these letters, JM Coetzee plays the straight man to Paul Auster’s clown, finds Jon Day.

Here and Now is a collection of letters between Paul Auster and JM Coetzee described by the publishers as “an epistolary dialogue between two great writers who became great friends”.

The title implies immediacy, and the letters were written from 2008-11, but the overriding sense of the exchange is of things past. The letter itself is a dying object, and a hint of anachronism runs through the correspondence.

Every now and then Auster mentions his tech-savvy wife, Siri Hustvedt, responsible for printing out emails from Coetzee and passing them on. Later he announces that he has bought an overhauled Olivetti typewriter. Coetzee too is uncomfortable with contemporary technology, which is conspicuously absent from his fiction. He speculates on the ubiquity of the mobile phone and its influence on the novel:

“The presence/absence of mobile phones in one’s fictional world is going to be, I suspect, no trivial matter. Why? Because so much of the mechanics of novel writing, past and present, is taken up with making information available to characters or keeping it from them. One used to be able to get pages and pages out of the non-existence of the telegraph/telephone and the consequent need for messages to be borne by hand or even memorised.”

Much of Here and Now is, like this, a mixture of the quotidian and the fascinating. With no introduction and only skeletal notes, it plunges you cold into a wide-ranging exchange taking in sport (watching and playing), cinema (watching and writing for) and politics (watching and despairing of) and much else. The two writers quickly fall into their allotted roles.

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