This is a 2009 novel by Nobel Prize winning South African writer JM Coetzee, who has also won the Booker Prize twice for the novels Disgrace and The Life and Times of Michael K. This book, along with a handful of his others, was also nominated for the prize.
I mention all of this because of the nature of this book. This book is written as a multi-voiced biographical research project taken on by a young, male, British biography after the recent death of Nobel Prize winning writer John Coetzee. So this kind of self-referential and self-effacing/deprecating sensibility plays throughout the whole of the novel. But the novel does not try to capture the all of Coetzee, but instead a five year period in the early 1970s leading up to the publication of his first novel In the Heart of the Country (which I have not read), when the writer was working as a teacher and living with his aging father and while he was in his early to mid-30s.
The novel is partly told from a set of notebooks left over by the writer, but is primarily set up as a interviews with significant figures in Coetzee’s life during that period. This includes two lovers, a woman thought to perhaps be a lover but was not, and a colleague in teaching.
The novel is humorous but still quite unsparing of Coetzee during this time period, and while it’s possible that the book could easily fall into sentimentality at its most generous and excoriation at its least, the book falls somewhere in the middle finding plenty to fault the writer, but plenty to show his qualities, but is much much more concerned with his uniqueness as a person. It’s a book with a kind of reflection spoken in the voices of others.