Elizabeth Costello

J. M. Coetzee

The latest novel by the splendid South African writer J. M. Coetzee, who now lives in Australia, is a fascinating portrait of the distinguished aging novelist of the title told in an unusual manner. Each of its eight chapters, called “lessons,” describes the subject of a formal address Costello, who is a sought-after speaker, gives as well as the events surrounding it. With such titles as “The Novel in Africa,” “The Problem of Evil,” “Eros,” etc., they suggest the novel’s intellectual heft, but what makes the tale wonderful is the way the main character emerges as a full and vital woman who is struggling to understand her life not only as a writer and thinker, but also as a mother, sister and lover. Coetzee, whose last novel was the stunning Disgrace, is the winner of numerous awards, including the Booker Prize (twice)—for good reason, as this book demonstrates.