Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Elizabeth Costello: Eight lessons' by J.M. Coetzee

Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Elizabeth Costello: Eight lessons' by J.M. Coetzee

Elizabeth Costello: Eight lessons

by J.M. Coetzee

Secker & Warburg, $35 hb, 233 pp, 1740512650

Something like a double helix of dialectical thinking winds its graceful way through these ‘eight lessons’. Ideas and theories about the nature of human (and other) life and how to live it, about the workings and the relative merits of logic, reason, belief, and faith, are sketched, rehearsed, debated, and set in opposition to each other throughout these eight episodes in the life of J.M. Coetzee’s heroine.

Elizabeth Costello is an elderly and distinguished Australian novelist with a dutiful son, a hostile daughter-in-law, and a sister as distinguished and singular – though in a very different way – as herself. Her reputation rests chiefly on the book regarded as her masterpiece, The House on Eccles Street, a novel that liberates Joyce’s Molly Bloom from the confines of her author, her house, and her hero husband, and lets her loose on the streets of Dublin.

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Published in October 2003 no. 255
Kerryn Goldsworthy

Kerryn Goldsworthy

Kerryn Goldsworthy won the 2013 Pascall Prize for cultural criticism, and the 2017 Horne Prize for her essay ‘The Limit of the World’. A former Editor of ABR (1986–87), she is one of Australia’s most prolific and respected literary critics. Her publications include several anthologies, a critical study of Helen Garner, and her book Adelaide, which was shortlisted for a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award. In November 2012 she was named as the inaugural ABR Ian Potter Foundation Fellow. Her Fellowship article on reviewing, ‘Everyone’s a Critic’, appeared in the May 2013 issue of ABR.

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