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
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Gillian Dooley is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in English at Flinders University, and a Visiting Fellow in the Music Department at Southampton University. Her publications include an edited book of interviews with Iris Murdoch (2003), V.S. Naipaul, Man and Writer (2006), J.M. Coetzee and the Power of Narrative (2010), and journal articles on a range of literary topics including music in the life and work of Jane Austen. In 2005 she co-edited Matthew Flinders’ Private Journal and in 2014 she published an edition of the correspondence between Iris Murdoch and the Australian radical philosopher Brian Medlin. She has been a regular reviewer for ABR since 2002. She is founding editor of the online journals Transnational Literature and Writers in Conversation.
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