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Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II (original 2002; edition 2003)
Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0142002003, Paperback)After the brooding, dark menace of his Booker Prize-winning novel Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee's Youth is a slighter, more restrained work. Written in succinct, almost cold prose, it's a painfully maudlin bildsrungsroman that explores the dreary follies of youth rather than its more celebrated joys. The unprepossessing protagonist John is a South African mathematics graduate with literary aspirations, a dreamer who constantly yearns to meet a girl who will serve as his lover and muse. Having abandoned Cape Town after Sharpeville he finds Swinging '60s London grey, damp, and uninviting. Reluctantly he finds employment as a computer programmer. In between trundling from his grimy Archway bedsit to his soulless job, this autodidactic Pooter dabbles on a study of Ford Maddox Ford, composes an Ezra Pound-inspired poem (ostentatiously entitled "The Portuguese Rock-Lobster Fisherman"), and embarks on "one humiliating affair after another." Despite his artistic and romantic endeavors, John seems only able to cultivate "dull, honest, misery" and, broken by London, flees to a new programming job in Berkshire. Here he practically renounces literature and, for a while at least, concentrates on chess problems and feeding primitive computers magnetic tape. His creative and sexual drives appear to have gone, leaving him to consider the possibility that he might actually have grown up.
Like the halting, self-interrogating consciousness of John's computers, Coetzee renders his character's inner life through a series of rhetorical questions. These lend the book a curiously existentialist air but also contribute to its slightly dilatory gait. (It feels far longer than its 170-odd pages.) Coetzee's tone is so laconic it's hard, on occasions, to be entirely certain if John's poetic ambitions should be pitied or simply laughed at. However, this novel does offer an unflinchingly acute dissection of the adolescent male psyche. --Travis Elborough, Amazon.co.uk
(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 04 Jan 2013 09:32:30 -0500)
Youth's narrator, a student in 1950s South Africa, has long been plotting an escape from his native country. Studying mathematics, reading poetry, saving money, he tries to ensure that when he arrives in the real world he will be prepared to experience life to its full intensity, and transform it into art. Arriving at last in London, however, he finds neither poetry nor romance. Instead he succumbs to the monotony of life as a computer programmer, from which random, loveless affairs offer no relief. Devoid of inspiration, he stops writing and begins a dark pilgrimage in which he is continually tested and continually found wanting. Set against the background of the 1960s, Youth is a remarkable portrait of a consciousness turning in on itself. J.M. Coetzee explores a young man's struggle to find his way in the world with tenderness and a fierce clarity.
(summary from another edition)
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