When I heard that someone was writing Coetzee’s biography, I thought he must be either brave or foolish. After all, Coetzee’s own approach to autobiography is slippery, to say the least. J.C. Kannemeyer was (he died suddenly on Christmas Day 2011) a South African professor of Afrikaans and Dutch, a veteran biographer, and a literary historian. Coetzee co-operated fully, granting extensive interviews, making documents available, answering queries by email, and offering no interference. ‘He said he wanted the facts in the book to be correct. He did not wish to see the manuscript before publication.’ In other words, he behaved impeccably. Any suspicion that Coetzee’s Summertime (2009), in which a biographer researches the late J.M. Coetzee’s life, is based on his experience of being Kannemeyer’s subject is removed by the epilogue. Summertime was conceived and largely written before the biography was contemplated.
A copious biography of J.M. Coetzee
J.M. Coetzee: A Life in Writing
by J.C. Kannemeyer, translated by Michiel Heyns
Scribe, $59.95 hb, 710 pp, 9781922070081
Gillian Dooley is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in English at Flinders University, and a Visiting Fellow in the Music Department...
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