Slow man

by J. M. Coetzee

Hardcover, 2005

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Viking, c2005.

Description

Paul Rayment is on the threshold of a comfortable old age when a calamitous cycling accident results in the amputation of a leg. Humiliated, his body truncated, his life circumscribed, he turns away from his friends. He hires a nurse named Marijana, with whom he has a European childhood in common: hers in Croatia, his in France. Tactfully and efficiently she ministers to his needs. But his feelings for her, and for her handsome teenage son, are complicated by the sudden arrival on his doorstep of the celebrated Australian novelist Elizabeth Costello, who threatens to take over the direction of his life and the affairs of his heart. Unflinching in its vision of suffering and generous in its portrayal of the spirit of care, Slow Man is a masterful work of fiction by one of the world's greatest writers.… (more)

Media reviews

The New York Times
J. M. Coetzee's signature work - "Waiting for the Barbarians," "The Master of Petersburg," "Disgrace," among others - has a tremendous austerity. Think of a Romanesque church in the late afternoon of a wintry November day, shadows in the corners, echoes in the choir, communicants here and there, a divine providence implied but absent. Doubt prevails. The question might be: What is it to be human? And what is it that conspires against us? What prevents us from grasping that which can be grasped, even if it's only a single hour free of distress? There is no consolation in this church, or in the graveyard that adjoins it. It's a common complaint that Coetzee's ministry can seem cold, abstract, willfully unforgiving. Formality has that aspect. But I think of his work as cold only in the sense of exact. Cold facts, cold numbers, cold dawn. Not heat, light. His books are as reliable as a plumb line.
Now comes "Slow Man," visible Coetzee from the very first sentence - but this time I think I hear a banjo in the choir.

The slow man is Paul Rayment, 60 years old, a retired photographer and archivist, divorced and childless, living alone. The venue is Adelaide, Australia. He's out for a ride on his bicycle when he's struck by a car he doesn't see. "The blow catches him from the right, sharp and surprising and painful, like a bolt of electricity, lifting him off the bicycle." He flies through the air, telling himself to relax, striking the pavement and commencing to skid. The skidding seems to go on forever, and when it's done he feels himself at peace, slack of body. He hears rather than feels his skull bounce on the pavement. He notices that the day is glorious: bright sun, benign temperature, a good time for a nap. When he awakens he finds his body no longer slack but thick, "ponderous." His first worry is his bicycle, since bicycles can be stolen; and then he faints. J. M. Coetzee's sentences are immaculate, and in a page and a half the scene, and some sense of what is to come, is set as firmly as a stake in the heart.

In an ambulance on the way to the hospital, Rayment is disoriented. What is happening to him? He hears voices and then, weirdly, the clack of a typewriter. This is his imagination at work, a message that seems to be written on the screen of his own inner eyelid. "E-R-T-Y, say the letters, then F-R-I-V-0-L, then a trembling, then E, then Q-W-E-R-T-Y, on and on." Gripped by panic, he is given a needle and awakens "in a cocoon of dead air." At the hospital, the news is not good. His knee is mangled and his leg must come off, though of course the surgeons will try to save as much of it as they can. If he were a younger man, they might attempt a reconstruction. But he is not a young man. He is 60, so what's the point?

The operation is successful, and Rayment must now endure the aftermath: the pain, the boredom, the washing, the catheter, the determined good cheer of the nurses, the surgeon's frank admiration of his own handiwork. This is not an admiration the patient can share; he did not give his consent. Before long a "difficult word" is added to his vocabulary: "prosthesis." With a prosthesis, he will be up and around in no time at all, perhaps even riding his bicycle again. He is told that wonderful progress has been made with prosthetic devices, really superb - and this news is unwelcome. Peevish, unsettled, appalled and in pain, Rayment wants no part of a prosthesis. Neither is he amused by his nurse's puzzlement - amazement, almost - at his family status. That is to say, he has no family. His parents are dead, his wife gone. He protests that he has friends, good close friends, but these do seem to be few in number. One comes to the hospital for a visit and later turns up at his apartment thinking about sex; and then she leaves and that is all we see of the friends.

Certainly Rayment will need rehabilitation, and that inspires yet another question. Would his insurance stretch to "frail care?" No, it would not. "Well then," the social worker says, "you'll have to budget for it, won't you?"

Rayment remains in the hospital for days, with plenty of time to reflect on the absence of his leg, and time also to search for the meaning of the imaginary typewriter and the truncated message. "Frivolous is not a bad word to sum him up, as he was before the event and may still be. If in the course of a lifetime he has done no significant harm, he has done no good either. He will leave no trace behind, not even an heir to carry on his name. Sliding through the world: that is how, in a bygone age, they used to designate lives like his: looking after his interests, quietly prospering, attracting no attention. If none is left who will pronounce judgment on such a life, if the Great Judge of All has given up judging and withdrawn to pare his nails, then he will pronounce it himself: A wasted chance." Rayment in a nutshell.

Home again at last, he engages a nurse skilled in "frail care." She is Marijana Jokic, a Croatian who learned her nursing skills in Germany. Rayment does not find her attractive, but she is very good with his leg stump, which he has taken to calling le jambon. Competence trumps beauty. Marijana is attentive when he wants her to be and absent when he wants to be alone. She does the shopping, the cooking, the washing, and when she smokes she is courteous enough to retreat to the balcony. But it is her care of le jambon and its "obscenely curtailed thigh muscles" that endears her to her patient, and soon enough Rayment has revised his estimate of her appearance: "more than not unattractive, she is on occasion a positively handsome woman, well built, sturdy, with nut-brown hair, dark eyes, a complexion olive rather than sallow; a woman who carries herself well, shoulders squared, breasts thrust forward. Prideful, he thinks."
So Paul Rayment, diminished in body, weak of spirit, disconsolate, worried by what he believes has been a wasted life, falls for his Croatian in a way that seems, in its opening moves, almost chaste. After all, she is a married woman. She has children. Rayment would not like to think of himself as a home-wrecker and so, after he is rebuffed, he conceives of unusual arrangements. The Jokic family could come live with him. He could live with them. He has money, anything is possible, including a kind of godfather status to Marijana's son, Drago.
But these events take place long after the advent of the ominous Elizabeth Costello, world-famous novelist and world-class pain in the neck - or if not world-class, at least seeded in the Southern Hemisphere. Still, she is not to be discounted: formidably intelligent, erudite and humorous. And so I am surely out of line when I think of her as a cross between Madame Blavatsky and Mrs. Portnoy. My sympathies lie with one-legged Paul.

Elizabeth Costello - she is the heroine of Coetzee's previous novel, "Elizabeth Costello," in which she seems to know everything about almost everything - has nominated herself to force Paul Rayment to take charge of his life, to act. She arrives at his apartment unbidden. They have never met. You came to me, she explains. "In certain respects I am not in command of what comes to me" - and this includes the very words Rayment used in describing his accident.

Elizabeth Costello is a great advice-giver: advice on conduct, children, language, apartment furnishings (Rayment's resembles "a Bavarian funeral parlor"), his relations with Marijana and the likely consequences if he declines to press the matter, and much else besides. Her justification for insinuating herself into Rayment's life: "I have been haunted by the idea of doing good." Rayment, for his part, thinks her a liar and fabulator and that she is in his life for one reason and one reason only. She wants him as a character for one of her wretched novels. But this seems not to be the case, and at last she lays her cards on the table:

"Do you think what I have said is the worst that can be said of you - that you are as slow as a tortoise and fastidious to a fault? There is much beyond that, believe me. What do we call it when someone knows the worst about us, the worst and most wounding, and does not come out with it but on the contrary suppresses it and continues to smile on us and make little jokes? We call it affection. Where else in the world, at this late stage, are you going to find affection, you ugly old man? Yes, I am familiar with that word too, ugly. We are both of us ugly, Paul, old and ugly. As much as ever would we like to hold in our arms the beauty of all the world. It never wanes in us, that yearning. But the beauty of the world does not want any of us. So we have to make do with less, a great deal less. In fact, we have to accept what is on offer or else go hungry. So when a kindly godmother offers to whisk us away from our dreary surroundings, from our hopeless, our pathetic, unrealizable dreams, we ought to think twice about spurning her."

Thus the ominous Elizabeth Costello's - I suppose the word would be "settlement." She gives Rayment 24 hours to decide whether to accept what's on offer.The answer is on the last page of the book.

I take this novel to be a scrutiny of disappointment and irresolution, a chicken-and-egg affair that does not yield satisfactory answers. Still, Coetzee's narrative is a bracing corrective to the blustering do-not-go-gentle-into-that-good-night. For Rayment, one chance after another has come and gone, some seized, most not. And when enough chances have come and gone, it can seem altogether wiser to maintain things as they are. Romantic leaps of faith are for the young. Rayment's heart is "in hiding." J. M. Coetzee has much to say about these matters and many others in "Slow Man" - beautifully composed, deeply thought, wonderfully written.
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The Observer
This is the first novel JM Coetzee has written since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2003. It displays all his expected pitch-perfect restraint, the language diamond clear, his attention always revealing a great deal more of his characters' intentions than they know themselves. He seems at pains here, though, to examine the nature of these gifts; to dismantle the mechanisms of his storytelling; to let the reader pull back the curtain a little and see him at work on the levers of his fiction and witness his practised pressing of all the right buttons. Slow Man starts as a simple enough story. In an Australian suburb, a man is knocked off his bike. Paul Rayment enjoys the sensation of his body flying through the air. 'Relax!' he tells himself, as if he knows already that this is the last bit of lightness he will ever feel. He's right, too. When he wakes in a hospital bed, it is to give his consent to doctors to remove his leg above the knee. The novel, thereafter, examines his reluctance, in the familiar phrase, to come to terms with the loss. To begin with, he can't cope with his nurses and, in particular, the one who calls 'the bedpan the potty; [and] his penis his willie'. When he hires a woman who can talk to him without embarrassment, who can bathe his stump and help him to his lavatory and rub some of the frustration of his new condition out of his back he, not surprisingly, falls in love. The woman, Marijana, is a Croatian immigrant, married with children and an unfulfilled history that seems part of her attraction. Deluded, a little, Paul believes he can find ways to make her love him, despite his old, knobbly fingers and his singularity - he is a retired, divorced man who collects photographs of old Australian mining towns - and his new circumstances. He tells her of his love and she promptly disappears. It is at this point that into his life, and into the novel, comes Elizabeth Costello. Readers of Coetzee will know Costello from his previous book. On that occasion, she acted as a kind of crabby alter ego, a novelist in her late sixties, invited to give a series of lectures on her - and perhaps his own - preoccupations, 'The Novel in Africa' and so on. At the heart of Elizabeth Costello, to further confuse matters, was a series of lectures Coetzee gave, partly in her persona, to the grandees of Princeton University in 1999, called 'The Lives of Animals'. In these, Costello argued controversially, fictionally that in the industrial production of meat for food 'we are surrounded by an enterprise of degradation, cruelty and killing which rivals anything that the Third Reich was capable of, indeed dwarfs it, in that ours is an enterprise without end ... ' Costello, you might say, therefore comes into Slow Man with a bit of baggage. For Paul Rayment, this is literally the case. The novelist, now a couple of years older and more frail, of whom he has heard vaguely, arrives on his doorstep with her things, brusquely introduces herself and moves into his spare room and his story. She explains her presence by quoting to Paul the opening section of his novel, the bike and him flying through the air and so on. Far from intruding on his novel, she suggests, he has intruded on hers: '"You came to me [Paul], that is all I can say. You occurred to me, a man with a bad leg and no future and an unsuitable passion ... where we go from there I have no idea. Have you any proposal?" He is silent.' From then on, as we are invited to believe she has all along, Costello dictates events, setting up rendez-vous, examining Paul's motivations for him. She has a novelist's sense of always moving things along, without ever quite knowing what will happen next. Her interventions into what, until then, has been a story of some compulsion might threaten, you imagine, to collapse any plausibilty and identification in Paul's predicaments. In fact, even as she reveals her manipulations, they prove what a consummate writer of fiction her creator, Coetzee, can be.
This novel begins with one of those life-changing moments that you know, even while they are still happening to you, can never be undone. "The blow catches him from the right, sharp and surprising and painful, like a bolt of electricity, lifting him up off the bicycle." The blow - fast-moving car meets human knee at a busy intersection on Adelaide's Magill Road - results in the amputation of Paul Rayment's right leg; his knee is too badly smashed to save. The first 20 pages of this book are a pitiless, clinical account of what it feels like to be helpless in hospital as your body tries to recover from whatever you have done to it this time, while the world turns heedlessly outside. "If he holds his breath he can hear the ghostly creeping of his assaulted flesh as it tries to knit itself together again. Outside the sealed window a cricket chants to itself." Paul Rayment, of course, will not "recover"; his leg, as the doctors and nurses keep unnecessarily telling him, will not grow back. At 60-ish he has no wife, no children, no lover worth the name; he does not wish his friends to be required to care for him. Advertisement Advertisement The first sign that his life after the accident might somehow be made endurable arrives in the form of his private nurse, Marijana Jokic, whose attentions, at once intuitive and practical, are at first bearable, then welcome, and finally longed-for. Like Coetzee's earlier work, Slow Man again addresses the subject of suffering and its alleviation. Under what circumstances, asks this book, and under what kinds of contracts, is it appropriate or even possible for human beings to give each other help? And what distinguishes help from care, or care from love? Sheena, the first paid nurse, is a horror, but Marijana, hired for the same wage to do the same work, is at once a saviour and an object of desire. Rayment's old lover, Margaret, offers to renew their relationship, a seemingly generous gesture but one made so gracelessly as to seem more repugnant than enticing. And Rayment's offer of financial help to Marijana's son is made in bad faith and causes major trouble in her family. It is only at this point that the writer Elizabeth Costello, whom we know from Coetzee's last novel, arrives on Rayment's doorstep, upon which Slow Man turns into a different kind of book altogether. It is as though, having read the first few chapters of a seemingly uncomplicated historical novel in which a woman in a crinoline and a man in mutton-chop whiskers are arguing over tea by the fire, we then discover that these people are Heathcliff and his creator Emily Bronte. Paul Rayment - who is in fact most un-Heathcliff-like: cautious, proper, withholding - is French by birth and a photographer by profession. He has an extensive collection of 19th-century Australian photographs that he thinks of as capturing some sense of post-settlement history to which he might feel that he belongs, for he feels he belongs nowhere else: no family, no workplace, no national culture nor cradle tongue. He is appalled to discover that Marijana's son Drago has "borrowed" some of these antique images and has digitally manipulated them to give the pioneers and miners the faces of Jokic family members, tinkering with history and erasing documentary truths. Almost every new character and fresh incident in this book raises some further moral, philosophical, ethical or aesthetic issue, adding another dimension to its rapidly proliferating complexities; Slow Man is a mix of fictional and metafictional modes, and a delicate, intricate layering of ideas and questions. What is love? Where is home? What really happened, and how do we know? For so cerebral a writer, Coetzee keeps the physical world in sharp focus; this is a book about ideas, but its central premise is that a man has lost a leg. "Which is worse, the cloud of gloom in the head or the ache in the bone that keeps him awake all night?" The writing is almost painterly in the precision of its physical details. Rayment's shopping, retrieved by the police after the accident - a tin of chickpeas with a dent in it, and a piece of brie that has melted and congealed in the hot Adelaide sun - has the quality of a still-life painting: homely groceries, in all their harmless domestic quiddity, left disorderly and disregarded in the aftermath of drama. Once Elizabeth Costello turns up, it also becomes a book about writing and writerliness, though it has been full from the beginning of word play and literary allusion. Costello's relationship to Rayment is part mentor, part tormentor, but she seems to agree with other fiction writers who describe themselves as being possessed by their characters: when Rayment asks her where one of the other characters has come from, Costello replies: "She came to me as you came to me . . . A woman of darkness, a woman in darkness. Take up the story of such a one: words in my sleeping ear, spoken by what in the old days we would have called an angel." Novels like this are a reviewer's nightmare. You know before you start that no description or summary will be adequate, and superlatives seem both impertinent and unnecessary. Coetzee is a Nobel prizewinner who has written another astonishingly rich book. That Slow Man is required reading should go without saying.

User reviews

LibraryThing member rcorfield
I don't really know what to make of this book. It's the first book by J.M.Coetzee that I've read and I've heard great things about him (Nobel prize, Booker prizes) but the book didn't turn out quite as I was expecting.

The book is superficially about a older man, Paul, who having been hit whilst cycling, has a leg amputated. During his recovery he develops a deep affection for (falls in love with?) his nurse.

It's at this point in the book that things take a turn for the weird with the abrupt arrival of Elizabeth Costello, a famed author. However it seems that EC has an unnatural insight into Paul's inner thoughts and experiences and indeed it seems that she's either gathering material on him for a new book, or that Paul may actually be in a book being written by her at this moment. However EC doesn't seem fully in control of the situation, as you might expect if this was the case.

I found the arrival of EC disorienting and unsettling. I was as confused about why she was there as Paul was. In fact this part of the book made me irritable, which is not an emotion I'm used to experiencing whilst reading!

I thought this was exploring the control that an author has over her characters, but also the control that the characters themselves exercise over the author, but then again I'm not so sure.

The tale wraps up some of the loose ends, but certainly not all of them.

I'm reliably informed that if I read Coetzee's 'Elizabeth Costello' her appearance in this book might make more sense. We shall see.

Overall, this book did keep me reading, and I enjoyed it despite what I've said.
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LibraryThing member gbill
“Slow Man” is what I would call a “coming to terms with age” story, in other words, the opposite end of the spectrum from a “coming of age” tale. At its very beginning a 60 year old man on a bicycle is hit by car, an accident which leads to him losing a leg. While this event leads to major life changes for the man, Paul Rayment, the book is not about the effects of amputation per se, it’s about how time beats us all down, and how Rayment reacts when he falls in love with his Croatian nurse, a married woman who is about twenty years younger.

Rayment is a bit of a turtle, ever cautious, and full of regret for not having had a son when he was younger. Growing old is painful both physically, as dramatically emphasized here in the loss of a limb, but also mentally – Rayment struggles to remain relevant, suffers humiliations, and realizes that he has lost his attractiveness to the opposite sex. Time has essentially passed him by, as it will pass all of us by.

With the appearance of Elizabeth Costello in Chapter 13, about one third of the way in, the book takes on a bit of mysterious tone. Who is this lady who seems to know so much of the amputee and his nurse, aside from an aging author who is suffering the effects of time herself? Why does she show up in Rayment’s life saying “you came to me”? Why is she homeless despite her success, and compelled to return to him?

I’ll give my opinion, but discontinue reading if you’re sensitive to a spoiler or want to form your own judgment first.

Put simply, I believe the other characters and the plot in the book are the inventions of author Elizabeth Costello. As Costello has invented Rayment’s amputation and wonders where to go with it, she also invents the tale of the immigrant Croatian family, the Jokic’s. She suffers writer’s block after conceiving the initial concept and cannot stop “visiting” these characters until they take action and the story is completed.

In a larger sense, the entire book could be considered the inner dialogue of Coetzee with himself. Coetzee the author is Costello; Coetzee the aging man is Rayment.

The book therefore takes on the tone of a dream within a dream. My initial reaction was one of disappointment for the character of Elizabeth Costello; I thought it was a bit obvious what was happening, and that her character did not add much to the story. I wondered if Coetzee had suffered writer’s block himself after conceiving the idea of Rayment and his bicycle accident, and then started injecting himself into the story in a character who several times prods Rayment along to take action. However as I reflect further, the idea grows on me.

Costello tells Rayment come with me, put aside your fears and enjoy life as best you can in your old age; forget these dreams of going backward, of getting a wife and a family after the fact, it’s not possible and a fool’s mission. Reconcile yourself to your age, come to terms with it, be at peace with the choices you’ve made.

What will Rayment do? I leave that to you to find out.

Quotes:
On aging:
“Fate deals you a hand, and you play the hand you are dealt. You do not whine, you do not complain. That, he used to believe, was his philosophy. Why then can he not resist these plunges into darkness?
The answer is that he is running down. Never is he going to be his old self again. Never is he going to have his old resilience. Whatever inside him was given the task of mending the organism after it was so terribly assaulted, first on the road, then in the operating theatre, has grown too tired for the job, too over-burdened. And the same holds for the rest of the team, the heart, the lungs, the muscles, the brain. They did for him what they could as long as they could; now they want to rest.”

On beauty:
“Yet at the same moment memory throws up again the image of Marijana stretching to dust the top shelves, Marijana with her strong, shapely legs. If his love for Marijana is indeed pure, why did it wait to take up residence in his heart until the instant she flashed him her legs? Why does love, even such love as he claims to practice, need the spectacle of beauty to bring it to life?”

On birth:
“Perfect: no other word will do. They arrive from the womb with everything new, everything in perfect order. Even in the ones who arrive damaged, with funny limbs or a brain that sends out sparks, each cell is as fresh, as clean, as new as on creation day. Each new birth a new miracle.”

On love, I truly believe this:
“Truth is not spoken in anger. Truth is spoken, if it ever comes to be spoken, in love. The gaze of love is not deluded. Love sees what is best in the beloved, even when what is best in the beloved finds it hard to emerge into the light.”

On old age:
“Everything in the world was, once upon a time, new. Even I was new. The hour I was born I was the latest, newest thing on the face of the earth. Then time got to work on me. As time will get to work on you. Time will eat you up, Drago. One day you will be sitting in your nice new house with your nice new wife, and your son will turn around to the pair of you and say, Why are you so old-fashioned? When that day arrives, I hope you will remember this conversation.”

On regret:
“Except that soon enough regret will start creeping in. His days will be cast over with a grey monologue. By night he will wake with a start, gnashing his teeth and muttering to himself If only, if only! Memory will eat away at him like an acid, the memory of his pusillanimity. Ah, Marijana! he will grieve. If only I had not let my Marijana get away! A man of sorrow, a shadow of himself, that is what he will become. To his dying day.”

On sex:
“Nothing dishonourable. What a funny old form of words! Are they not just a fig-leaf to cover something a great deal coarser, something unsayable: I haven’t been fucking your mother? If fucking is what it is all about, if fucking is what sends Miroslav Jokic into a jealous rage and brings his son to the edge of tears, why is he making speeches about honour? I haven’t been fucking your mother, I haven’t even solicited Marijana, if he does not aspire to fuck her, what in God’s name does he plan or aspire to do, in words that make sense to a youth born in the 1980’s?”
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LibraryThing member ocgreg34
Paul Rayment is struck by a car while bicycling, resulting in the loss of his leg. Being in his 60s and stubborn as a mule, he refuses a prosthesis and grudgingly gives in to having a home care professional visit him daily to help with laundry, groceries, cooking, cleaning, bathing, etc. The first few caregivers leave a bad impression, but he decides to try one more. Which is how he meets Marijana.

Marijana stops by daily to take care of all the things he can't do for himself. But as she works, he takes notice of her, finds out more about her family, her likes and dislikes, and finds himself quietly falling in love with her. But when he begins to waffle about telling her his feelings, a strange woman named Elizabeth Costello shows up announced on his doorstep. She tells him that she's a writer and that she's arrived to help Paul move things along. The problem is, he has no idea who she is or how she seems to know so much about his life and Marijana's. And try as he might to rid her from his life, she simply won't leave until he makes some kind of decision about his love for Marjiana.

Much of J.M. Coetzee's novel deals with growing older and with relationships. Does aging mean we are forced to rely on others to get by, to lose our sense of self? Paul, who was so accustomed to fending for himself, running errands on his own, biking all over Adelaide -- especially for a man of his age -- suddenly has his self-reliance taken away and struggles to deal with others meddling and poking around in his life. And as for love, does he really love Marijana? As Elizabeth points out, he hardly knows anything about her, about her family, where she came from, what kind of life she's lead. How can he base love on such little information?

The question that kept nagging at me, though, throughout the book focused on what is real. Elizabeth does seem to know quite a bit about Paul's life, and that of Marijana and her family, even the life of a woman he briefly met in an elevator at the hospital. Because of this and her ability to pop up when he needs to make a decision, Paul questions whether or not he's living his own life or is a character in one of her stories. Reading through, I questioned that myself and after finishing the book, I still can't give a definitive answer.

But that adds to the effectiveness of "Slow Man". Elizabeth's aim is to get Paul to make a decision, to take an active role in his life now that he's older and missing a leg, rather than standing by while everyone does everything for him. Whether or not he's a character in one of her books, he still must decide for himself.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
This was my first Coetzee novel, and it will not be my last. In Slow Man, Coetzee tells the story of Paul Rayment, an older man who loses his leg in a freak bicycle accident and must decide the path of his life following this devastating event. Paul is a man who has lived a relatively solitary life and regrets his lack of children. He gave up his career as a photographer when colour replaced black and white and digital imagery replaced light-sensitive emulsions because '...to the rising generation the enchantment lay in the techne of images without substance, images that could flash throught he ether without resideing anywhere, that could be sucked into a machine and emerge from it doctored, untrue.' (From Slow Man, page 65).

As the reader meets the other characters (Marijana, Marianna, Drago, and the bold Elizabeth Costello) she is treated to a literary puzzle about love, loss and mortality. Coetzee engages the reader with sharp dialogue and an edgy wit. He plays with the meaning of words and names - which had me re-reading passages and marking pages for later contemplation.

Slow Man is a demanding novel despite it's brevity. At times it is difficult to know which character and whose story can be trusted.

I cannot say more about this novel without giving away important plot points - and so, I will simply recommend that readers read Coetzee's book for themselves.
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LibraryThing member shejake
This book was too slow and introspective for me. My attention wandered constantly. I found it depressing and dull.
LibraryThing member PghDragonMan
Slow Man by J M Coetzee is a slow moving story that left me feeling very puzzled. In the end, I could not decide if we, the readers, were eavesdropping on the main character’s hallucinations or the story had some moral that I was missing. More than anything, the way Slow Man treated reality, the novel reminded me of Peter Carey’s My Life as a Fake. Stylistically, the comparison is apt as both authors rely on a very smooth writing style to keep you moving along with the story.

If you enjoy deep character driven stories, you may be attracted to Slow Man. If you’re looking for action, forget it. If you just go with the story and accept it a face value, it will come across as a four star read. If you like reality clearly defined, even in the context of a novel, you will be lost and maybe give it two stars.
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LibraryThing member rosencrantz79
In this tale of Paul Rayment--a one-time photographer who loses a leg in a bicycle accident, then finds himself subjected to an unwanted visitor who knows far too much about his private thoughts--J.M. Coetzee seems to be attempting something that's almost, sorta, kinda metafiction, but not really. Regardless of the literary tricks he pulls, Coetzee has created fine characters in a bizarre situation, and the foil provided by Paul's unwanted guest makes for some delightful scenes. There are some loose ends that are never tied off, and an ending that seemed rather abrupt. I'm still trying to figure out how Coetzee manages to sustain pages of uninterupted back-and-forth dialog with little to no narration--and makes it seem okay.… (more)
LibraryThing member presto
The slow man of Coetzee's novel is Paul Rayment, who in the opening pages we encounter flying through the air having been knocked off his cycle by a young motorist. The story then follows Paul's recovery from the accident, as a consequence of which his freedom is severely restricted. When he goes home having been released from hospital he is allocated care nurses and it his relationship with one of these nurses, her family, and the mysteriously appearing Elizabeth Costello that form the central theme.
Sixty plus year old retired photographer Paul is divorced, and is not a man without needs, the need for love and sexual fulfilment. He falls for one of his nurses, Croatian born Marijana Kokic, a robust and capable woman who comes across, perhaps as much because English is not her first language, as a little abrupt, yet very thorough and caring. Paul also becomes involved with Marijana's entire family, and especially Mariajna's sixteen year old son Drago, handsome, confident, charming and polite.
The elderly novelist Elizabeth Costello makes a sudden appearance as if from nowhere and imposes herself upon Paul, and she then becomes a constant feature for the duration, acting it seems as Paul's conscience (for a short while one wonders if she is real or if she exists only in Paul's mind). What is her motive, she appears to be very knowledgeable about Paul and the Kokics, but is her interest purely altruistic? Paul's relationship with Elizabeth wavers from loathing to tolerance, and maybe more.
This is a most endearing story; it is easy to see how Paul becomes infatuated with Marijana, who is fazed by none of the very personal and intimate care she has to provide. Paul's relationship with young Drago is touching; he clearly cares very much for the boy and is prepared to demonstrate that in generous practical ways. This is an interesting and unpredictable story, with a gratifying surprise towards the end.
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LibraryThing member catalogthis
We meet the main character, Paul Rayment, moments after he has been struck by a car. He soars through the air, planning to tuck and roll and hoping that no one steals his bicycle in the meantime. He wakes up in a hospital. Most of his right leg is gone. They were unable to save the knee.

About a third of the way into this novel, the author introduces another character, Elizabeth. Her appearance is so unexpected, and so unlikely, that I started to wonder if I was reading science fiction. No lie. In the end, I suppose I'll settle for calling it magical realism, which is not my favorite genre (or style or whatever), and which definitely doesn't fit the first 100 pages, which deal with the immediate aftermath of the accident and amputation.

My skepticism aside, there are some extremely quotable bits, among them:

* He has -- what? A flat full of books and furniture. A collection of photographs, images of the dead, which after his own death will gather dust in the basement of a library along with other minor bequests more trouble to the cataloguers than they are worth.

* I can pass among Australians. I cannot pass among the French. That, as far as I am concerned, is all there is to it, to the national-identity business: where one passes and where one does not.

* Of course you may love whom you choose. But maybe from now on you should keep your love to yourself, as one keeps a head cold to oneself, or an attack of herpes, out of consideration for one's neighbours.

* Become major, Paul. Live like a hero. This is what the classics teach us. Be a main character. Otherwise what is life for?

P.S. I remembered why I added this to my queue... I liked Out Stealing Horses so much that I wanted to see what other books were shortlisted the same year it won the IMPAC award. So far, I think the judges made the right call.
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LibraryThing member petterw
Will I remember the plot, the details, the characters of this wonderful novel? Only vaguely - but more more likely will I remember the feeling I had when reading it. Coetzee is an extraordinary writer. I rarely want to reread books, but with his novels I might make an exception. Slow man starts out as a straight story about a man who has a mishap, and must as a consequence amputate his legs. He falls in - a sort of - love for his Croatian nurse, but there ends a straight and predictable narrative. From there on Coetzee is taking us for a ride, forcing us to think, not only read. He is pushing the boundaries of what a novel, a story, is. Is it real og is it Memorex? I don't know nor care. Instead I think about our existence, what role we may want to play in our own lives and in other people's lives, what is important and what is immaterial. What more can a novel do for you?… (more)
LibraryThing member Katie_H
This brief novel was a challenging one thematically, and I'm not so sure that I fully understood it, but I'll give it a try. Slow Man is the story of Paul Rayment, an older gentleman, who is hit by a car while riding his bicycle, resulting in the amputatation of his leg. He decides not to get a prosthesis, returning to his apartment and hiring a nurse, Marijana, instead. He eventually develops deep feelings for his nurse, and the majority of the plot centers around this fact and the effect that his love has on her relationships with her husband and children. Enter Elizabeth Costello. This is where I got confused with the story. Elizabeth, a writer, who Paul does not know, shows up on his doorstep and asks to move in, which Paul allows. During her stay, she provides constant commentary on Paul's life and decision making, and she even predicts his future actions. I have two different theories regarding the character of Elizabeth. The first, and probably most likely, is that she is the only "live" character in the novel, and that Paul's story is actually the plot of her current book project. The second theory is that Elizabeth is Paul's imaginary muse, though I find this more difficult to accept, since she is referenced by other characters in the book. This was my first experience with Coetzee, and it was quite intriguing, leaving me with a desire to read more from him. However my confusion with the interpretation of the story left me frustrated.… (more)
LibraryThing member stillatim
Ugh. My wife could hear my eyes rolling when Elizabeth Costello reared her obnoxious, uninteresting head. hahahahaha. Oh it's all so clever, empty and pointless. Too bad; Paul Rayment had potential until he become just another pathetic old man in love with a younger woman etc etc...
LibraryThing member MSarki
I read far more than was necessary to finally determine this book was not worth reading. Upon the entrance of Elizabeth Costello I knew pretty much that I was in for a weighty disappointment. The main character and his stubborn life-style refusals and insistence on furthering an ill-fated and inappropriate love affair left me feeling basically disgusted with the pitiful old gent. I was embarrassed for all aging men and what they might become if served heaped on a plate filled with leftover mediocrities. I have no idea what possessed a man of such talent as Coetzee's to write this drivel and why he allowed it to even be published. The text is nothing short of despicable and I doubt the experience will wash completely off me. But I will rub and scrub with the harshest of detergents and hope the cleansing chemicals will somehow save me instead of causing a more deadly cancer to grow. But after reading two-thirds of this I cannot imagine what that could be.… (more)
LibraryThing member _amritasharma_
This book might not qualify to be my favourite, but Coetzee is certainly a favourite now. A very simple plot which actually frizzled out in the end.Yet rises to memorable heights thanks to some superlative writing, full of thoughtful insights into the psyche of a disabled man rendered dependent in his old age because his right leg had to be amputated after an unfortunate accident. The pain and loss of dignity felt by Paul Rayment is written with heart rending insightfulness

The portrayal of Paul Rayment evokes poignancy and pathos and presents Coetzee as a writer of extraordinary senstivity and gift of vocabular. The characters are memorable and well formed. The interactions amongst them is quite interesting to read. The only trouble is that the story didin't seem to be heading for a resolution. And this is where the real talent of Coetzee surfaces. A the hands of a lesser writer,the story of Paul Rayment might have gotten shelved. But Coetzee introduces the Character of Elizabeth Costello,the "Writer". All her attempts to develop action in the story fall flat and ultimately Paul bids her goodbye as they fail to find a resolution to their story.

There are two strands woven together in the novel:the description of Pauls predicant and the trials and travails of the process of writing. Both strands are interesting in their own right but somehow do not merge together. Still I would recommend this book for the beauty of characterisation in the first strand and faintly amusing power struggle between the 'Writer" and her character. :)
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LibraryThing member knightlight777
I do not read much fiction. I picked this one out of a list of must reads, probably the top 1001 to do list. Not a bad read by any measure but it reinforces why I don't read a lot of fiction.

Coetzee, an accomplished author relates the trials and tribulations of one Paul Rayment who loses his leg in a bicycle accident. Being an avid cyclist myself I can certainly relate to the trauma it would inflict psychologically. But the book's main theme seems to be about ageing and dependency. And how we all live our lives probably wondering in the end, did we do it right and what might we have missed or squandered?… (more)
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
A thoroughly post-modern book (I guess). A plot that falls apart. A character who belongs in another book - who actually has her own book! And an ending that ends just as if Coetzee had run out of paper, or ideas.
LibraryThing member AlisonY
Set in modern Australia, in this novel Coetzee tells the story of a man in his sixties who is struggling with coming to terms with his life post an accident which results in him having a leg amputated. As he recovers, he confuses the care of his Croatian private nurse for something more than it can ever be. In the middle of this arrives a fictional Australian author, who Coetzee plays with as an instrument for moving the story along.

I wasn't wild about this book. Coetzee was obviously trying to be very clever with the author character and her ability to mess with the narrative structure, but largely the characters were difficult to connect with, and the story seemed to go nowhere. I've no problem with a largely plotless book, but if I don't have plot I have to pull the characters into my heart and that just didn't happen here.

3 stars - clever: no doubt. Loveable: no.
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LibraryThing member zasmine
Slow Man is pretty slow. None the less, I like Coetzee, even his long monologues I stay glued to!
LibraryThing member Kristelh
When photographer Paul Rayment loses his leg in a bicycle accident, his solitary life is irrevocably changed whether he likes it or not. Stubbornly refusing a prosthesis, Paul returns to his bachelor’s apartment in Adelaide, Australia, uncomfortable with his new dependency on others. He is given to bouts of hopelessness and resignation as he looks back on his sixty years of life, but his spirits are lifted when he finds himself falling in love with Marijana, his practical, down-to-earth Croatian nurse who is struggling to raise her family in a foreign land. As Paul contemplates how to win her heart, he is visited by the mysterious writer Elizabeth Costello, who challenges Paul to take an active role in his own life.
In this new book, Coetzee offers a profound meditation on what makes us human, on what it means to grow older and reflect on how we have lived our lives. Like all great works of literature, Slow Man is a novel that asks questions but rarely provides answers; it is a portrait of a man in search of truth. Paul Rayment’s accident changes his perspective on life, and as a result, he begins to address the kinds of universal concerns that define us all: What does it mean to do good? What in our lives is ultimately meaningful? Is it more important for one to feel loved or cared for? How do we define the place that we call “home”? In his clear and uncompromising voice, Coetzee struggles with these issues, and the result is a deeply moving story about love and mortality that dazzles the reader on every page.
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LibraryThing member Pauntley
'Slow Man' is a glum little novel that begins with a collision in Magill Road, Adelaide, between a young man in a fast car and an old man on a bicycle: The impact catches the old man, who is called Paul Rayment, from the right, ‘sharp and surprising and painful, like a bolt of electricity, lifting him up off the bicycle. Relax! he tells himself as he flies through the air (flies through the air with the greatest of ease!)’ Later, the young driver visits Rayment in hospital and apologises for the injury but takes care to avoid an admission that he was at fault. He is given an appropriate aptronym, ‘Adam Blight’. Rayment loses the leg that took the impact and his life is blighted thereafter by the amputation. He makes the worst of his catastrophe. He refuses a prosthesis for no apparent reason and stumps around on crutches for the remainder of the novel. He refuses commiseration from his friends and the promise of sexual consolation from a former mistress. He refuses to sue Adam Blight, a course of action that might at least have given him the shadowy satisfaction of legal vengeance. He does however fall helplessly in love with Marijana Jokic, his day nurse, who comes to his apartment to manage his cleaning and cooking and the after-care of his mutilated limb. He confesses his love to Marijana and promises to pay for the education of Drago, her 16 year old son. It is apparent, even to Rayment, that no consummation of his love is possible: nothing in his desiccated world could appeal to Marijana who has a full and engaged life with her husband and three children.

At this point, a little more than a third of the way through the novel, Elizabeth Costello rings his doorbell. Costello is a novelist; her name is familiar from earlier books by Coetzee, she is the author of a celebrated Joycean novel 'The House on Eccles Street', though she now seems older, more frail and more troubled than her predecessors. It is immediately apparent, in a paralleled fiction and metafiction, that Rayment is the protagonist in a novel that she is trying to write. (Costello introduces herself to Rayment with a reprise of the opening paragraph of Slow Man: the impact of the collision ‘like a bolt of electricity’ and Rayment’s injunction to himself as he flies through the air, ‘Relax’.) They become unwilling companions, bound together in a dialogue of mutual recrimination and disappointment. Costello wants Rayment to live his life as if he were a character in a novel. Their novel is not going well. Rayment responds that he is not interesting. He insists that he is not ‘novel material’ but human dross, ‘too pale, too cold, too frightened’. Or, even worse, that he is her puppet and it is beyond her declining powers as a novelist to make him interesting. There is a point at which he thinks that perhaps he is her punishment, ‘brought down to blight the last days of her life’, saddled with ‘a one-legged man who cannot make up his mind’. Blighted it seems, both of them.
To be fair, Costello does try to make something of this unpromising human material. She organises a sexual encounter for Rayment with a blind woman which leaves both of them baffled and disappointed. She proposes a companionate marriage for herself and Paul. She tells him to sell up and live together with her in Carlton, in Melbourne: ‘Give it a whirl’. Adelaide, she says, ‘is too much like a graveyard’. But Paul refuses life with Elizabeth, though not without a saving grace of tender formality, and there the novel ends.

As I look over 'Slow Man' again, wondering what to make of it, it occurs to me that it is a work of comedic schadenfreude. Readers with a taste for that sort of thing might take a perverse pleasure in the spectacle of Paul Rayment’s invariable bent in choosing to be dull and miserable. When Drago and his father build a splendid arm-propelled three-wheeler to replace his ruined bicycle he manages to express his gratitude for their generosity but knows in his heart that he will never take it on the road. It is another unwanted prosthesis and it will gather dust in storage. I remember a ludicrous cartoon figure in mid 20th century magazines called The Sad Sack, whose ineptitude and misfortunes gave his readers a weekly dose of schadenfreude. Rayment is a Sad Sack, whose misanthropy and abnegation provide, at best, a sour diet of entertainment.

The city of Adelaide, Coetzee’s adopted hometown, is blighted with the same dyspeptic vision. Elizabeth Costello describes it as a graveyard. Paul Rayment, contemplating the prospect of perambulating in Drago’s three wheeler, tells her that perhaps he ought instead to buy himself an antique bath chair. ‘Adelaide is just the place for a bath chair’.
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LibraryThing member edwinbcn
In 2002, J. M. Coetzee moved from South Africa to Australia. In 2003, he worn the Nobel Prize for Literature, obviously on the strength of his oeuvre describing the system of Apartheid in South Africa. It seems to me, that by abandoning South Africa, Coetzee has abandoned his major theme. Almost a decade earlier, Apartheid had been abolished in South Africa, which was followed by the rise of Aids as the most prominent problem, crippling South African society. Apparently, Coetzee's main motive to move was simply his retirement, which left him free to relocate to Aidelaide to join his his partner, there.

Whatever his motives, his new, post-2002 work does not appear to live up to the work which formed the basis for his Nobel Prize. Replacing the commitment to South Africa's political struggle for animal activism in Elisabeth Costello seems a weak gesture, and Slow man is a bland, totally uninspiring story, far removed from his earlier triumphs.

The story is exceedingly simple, and one wonders why it was spun out to 260+ pages. There is nothing of particular interest, or endearing quality. In fact, much of it is very banal. Very disappointing.
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