Coetzee Wins Nobel Prize for Literature

The Evening Standard (London, England), October 2, 2003 | Go to article overview

Coetzee Wins Nobel Prize for Literature


Byline: DAVID SEXTON

THE 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature has been won by the South African novelist J M Coetzee, the Swedish Academy announced today.

This is wonderful news. Coetzee, 63, unquestionably among the greatest living writers in English.

The Nobel has often been misapplied.

evaded Tolstoy, Chekhov, Conrad, Proust, Hardy, Joyce, Kafka and Nabokov.

It was won, on the other hand, by Bjornstjerne Bjornson, Jose Echegaray y Eisaguirre,

Henryk Sienkiewicz, Giosue Carducci, Paul von Heyse, Verner von Heidenstam, Rudolf Eucken and others now wholly forgotten. In many cases, the judges seem to have been influenced by political, rather than literary, factors. But in choosing Coetzee, the judges have got it right and ignored the fact that Coetzee has many things to say that do not sit comfortably with liberal political assumptions.

His books, written in an exquisitely pared down style much influenced by Beckett, deal with difficult, painful matters - betrayal, the abuse of power, the nature of evil, our cruel treatment of animals - and ultimately they express deep scepticism over whether or not any of us is capable of true empathy with others.

Coetzee presents these unwelcome truths with a rigour and purity that cannot be ignored.

The PC political commentator Andrew Marr, otherwise a great Coetzee admirer, once said that he loathed the message of Coetzee's bleak masterpiece about contemporary South Africa, Disgrace, so much that it had him physically shaking. Good for Coetzee.

J M Coetzee (pronounced Coot'zeer) was born in Cape Town in 1940 and trained as a computer scientist, coming to London in the Sixties to work for IBM, a period recollected in a superb autobiographical novel Youth. …

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