Wednesday, 31 January 2007

John Coetzee's new novel, which is planned for release by Harvill in September, is to be entitled Diary of a Bad Year, as I mentioned a few days ago.

More news has come to light now. It is "the story of an eminent, 72-year-old Australian writer who is invited to contribute to a volume entitled Strong Opinions - a platform, of course, for Coetzee to air his views on such issues as the treatment of asylum seekers, Guantanamo Bay and the Middle East".

As many readers will know, Strong Opinions is a volume of non-fiction pieces by Vladimir Nabokov. It was originally published by McGraw-Hill in New York in 1973. My Vintage International edition is dated 1990. It also contains a three-page foreward dated 1973, and signed in Montreux, Switzerland, where he had gone to live following the success of Lolita (he had been living in Ithaca, New York, teaching at Cornell University since 1953).

The volume contains a number of interviews, some letters to editors, and a collection of articles that were first published in various periodicals throughout Nabokov's life. One of them, 'Pounding the Clavichord', which was published originally in The New York Review of Books in 1964, is about the art of translation. Readers may remember that Coetzee's own article about translation (a bit heavy and hard-going) was published originally in Meanjin (in 2005) and then in The Best Australian Essays 2006 (Black Inc.). He also published a piece on translation in an Australian broadsheet, though I forget which one and when.

I wonder if Coetzee is consciously putting himself forward as the grand-old-man of letters in the way that Nabokov did, in his later years. Many people beat a path to the Russian writer's door, as he relaxed in his hotel room overlooking Lake Geneva, like a latter-day Rousseau or Voltaire. Perhaps Adelaide is the new Ithaca. If so, where will Coetzee retire to when the money allows him?

Thanks to Perry at Matilda for the heads-up.

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