In most of J.M.Coetzee’s novels, descriptions and emotions are abbreviated. His lean words seem to be an escape from all that conventional novels provide. His novels are bereft of the excessive detailing that usually fill up page after page. One critic recently pointed out that it was hard to recall even a single Coetzeean line. Yes, perhaps that’s true. But more than his words and lines, it is the shadows his words cast- that make the complex Coetzeean narrative. It leaves an unsettling impression on the mind.
In his latest offering “Slow Man” the protagonist oldish Paul Rayment meets with an accident while riding on his bike. What entails is the amputation of his leg in the hospital. Efficient doctors and nurses care for him, but “Efficiency” is an impenetrable and unsympathetic carapace. And his “new” life commences with all the shadows of gloominess and misery of life with a stump. He imprudently falls in love with a very healthy and married Croatian home nurse Marijana. In the midst of this one -sided love, the narrative is interrupted by Elizabeth Costello. Now Who is that?
Elizabeth Costello is the protagonist- writer in a previous Coetzee novel. She is working on a book now and Paul Rayment is a character in her book. Costello takes up residence with her character. It becomes absurd as Costello plays God, irritatingly interrupting Rayment’s thoughts and actions. They are trapped in an almost irrevocable relationship. Coetzee explores relationships between humans, between the writer and the character and on a higher plane there are the allusions to the mystical marriage-trap between Man and God.
And the recurrent line that runs the through the book is “God alone knows” why things happen.