When I finished reading this novel, I felt like I needed to re-read it, and then join a discussion group to figure out all of the symbols and parallels and minutiae I missed the second time through, nevermind the first. There's a lot going on here, and I'm afraid a good bit of it flew over my head.
The novel is set in post-Apartheid South Africa, and the main character is a college professor who is removed from his increasingly meaningless position when a student reveals their illicit affair. The professor, disgraced (fancy that) travels to join his daughter as a guest at her former commune, current farm, and attempts to kindle a relationship with her, his last anchor in a sea of reproach.
That's the trite version. Coetzee is an incredibly lyric author, and he manages to use the unwritten even more than the written word to draw uncomfortable parallels between the protagonist -- upon whom the typical reader seems to waste little love -- and the perpetrators of a heinous crime against his daughter and he. (Or is it "...and him?" I can never get that straight.) The backdrop of South Africa in turmoil is as much a character as the man and his daughter, and it is to the author's credit that the reader finishes the book with a deeper sense of what culture has taken root there in the absence of Apartheid's admittedly flawed structure.
Challenging, but worth it.
Tricky Business, by Dave Barry
Ah, Dave, I'm once again impressed by the fact that you can not only write incredible, hilarious columns, but also bang out worthwhile comic novels as well. Good show, chap; most of us can do neither.
Tricky Business is the tale of a casino boat which goes out of Miami every night, ostensibly to help its guests rid themselves of all that pesky cash, but also, and more importantly, to facilitate the exchange of large quantities or domestic cash and foreign drugs. The ensemble cast is, in the vein of Big Trouble, made up of normal, though mostly broken, memorable folks who meet amidst the most ludicrous of coincidences. Great fun. I preferred Big Trouble, I think, but not by much.
The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper
I talked a bit about the first book in this series, Over Sea, Under Stone a while back, here, and the remainder of the series was just as good. Someone needs to tell today's children's authors (except, my sources tell me, Rowling -- I haven't yet read her stuff) that good kids' lit is just good adult lit with, perhaps, a slightly reduced-in-size set of allowable circumstances. Maybe not even that last caveat. Ask me tomorrow.
In any case, The Dark Is Rising starts out as a typical Campbellian saga -- folks with super human powers out to save the rest of us -- but it slowly changes into a tale of personal empowerment and responsibility. I don't want to give away the ending -- every one of you needs to read these books -- but suffice it to say that the series climax is one that will stay with you for a long, long time after you finish turning pages.
What really impresses me, though, is that it was not the storyline that I remembered so vividly across the gulf of nearly two decades -- it was the incredible imagery of England and Wales which Cooper weaves into her writing. Scenes remained lodged in my mind, sometimes devoid of all context, and this gave them even stronger effect upon me in the process of my re-reading: a boy, pulled helplessly to the ground by an inexplicably heavy, yet empty, sack, while he is watched unblinkingly by a huge grey fox. A darkened hall of mirrors, lit suddenly, disorientingly, blindingly, by a line of words, written in flame. A small, round sigil formed of light and song, embedded within an ancient stone wall.
I really can't say enough about these books. I realize that I am typically overzealous in my reviews about books that I've enjoyed, but I'm serious here. Read this series. You'll thank me.