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I am a writer, because I am a reader, a passionate reader of the events. Apart from doing my literary writing, I try to see how a particular event would and could affect the people living in its immediate surround.

SLOW MAN --by J M COETZEE : REVIEWED by NAVAL LANGA


The most important of all rights is the right to life, and I cannot foresee a day when domesticated animals will be granted that right in law. -- J. M. COETZEE

The winner of Nobel Prize in literature in the year 2003, J M Coetzee is a man of his own kind, an engineer with his own tools. His novels were wedded with real world, until he wrote ‘Disgrace’. By ‘Disgrace’ he became the first writer to pocket the Booker Prize twice. Then came his novels Elizabeth Costello (2003) and Slow Man (2005), the neat fiction. ‘Slow Man’ tries to draw a line between fiction and reality. In ‘Slow Man’ the subject matter flows like a wide waterway. Here Coetzee tries defining the region wherein both fiction and reality lives side-by-side, having common entrance and exit doors.


The story starts with a great fall and then turns into a river, taking us over to the distant regions. A man, Paul Rayment, age 60, alone after divorce, childless, and an Australian, is not a man of peaceful tamper. Nor he is a man of satiated desires. After an accident that has made him flying in the air, he is bed-ridden with one leg amputated. But the accident, the flying from his bicycle seat, and subsequent fall have not made him dreamless. He thinks about his life to come, though not with the same speed as before. He conjures up a new life. Keeping his middle-aged nurse, Marijana Jokic, in center, he conjures up a family with her and her young son, Drago.

Paul craves for living with Marijana and her good-shaped calves, and even desires his extension through the Drago. Though in order to remain alive after his death, he has another contingent plan, too. He wants to donate a collection of his old and rare photographs to a library and remain alive through those photographs.

Circumstances do not allow him to do what he likes. Everything changes in a strange way when a stranger’s finger rings his doorbell. Here enters Elizabeth Costello, a fictional character from Coetzee’s previous novel of the same name. She wants to make out a character from the material on bed, Paul’s reduced life. His life is ending in installments, the amputation of leg being first one. Unusual dialogues are bartered between Paul and Elizabeth.You occurred to me -- a man with a bad leg and an unsuitable passion: that is what Elizabeth says to him. He neglects Costello in every possible way. But he keeps on pursuing Marijana, offering a scholarship to Drago for the study he is dreaming to undergo.


Marijana and her husband Mr. Jokic, a Croatian refugee, turn down the offer. Whereas they reject Paul’s advancement for being Drago’s foster father, they avoid being thankless people.Drago, with active help from all of his family members, repairs Paul’s devastated bicycle. He turns the bicycle into a Paul Rayment, an amputee, friendly vehicle.


COETZEE’S MAGICAL RELATIONSHIP WITH READERS


The satiric sentences, unusual response by Paul to have no prosthesis, and Marijana’s caring presence are sufficient materials to make us turning two hundred and odd pages weightlessly. But J. M. Coetzee, seemingly a writer of the straight-lined storiestill the day, surprises us when a character of his earlier novel forcefully enters Paul Rayment, the Slow Man’s life. Elizabeth Costello, a fictional entity, is not a simple woman. Nor she has come to behave sophisticatedly with Paul, a patient byorthopaedic definition.


On knowing that the Costello woman would be making a story out of his sorry state, Paul wants to drive her out of his home. He unequivocally tells her his mind, too: "You treat me like a puppet.... You treat everyone like a puppet. You make up stories and bully us into playing them out for you." He considers himself an ordinary man and is quite reluctant to become the centre of a story. Here Coetzee’s narration is so pictorial that a reader would feel sitting in middle of the room where these characters run into each other.


Growing under the apartheid regime of South Africa, and addicted to write in allegorical ways, Coetzee always deals with the subject matter in non-traditional ways. The manner in which he transacts with our hearts is in no way a conventional one. He acts like a wild cat sitting on the chest of its prey. And many a time, the cat leaves us spilling blood. However when the ‘Barbarians Are coming’ or the shadows of ‘Disgrace’ are hovering over the characters, he endeavors to search for a possible way-out.


In Slow Man, the writer-character Costello tries hard to connect herself with ‘the character’ Paul Rayment, but she fails on several occasions. The scuffle due to the gap between a writer’s demand from the character and the character’s denial to obey generate bitter conversations. The stage set for the ongoing wrestle entertains us on first count. Secondly the situation, in which both the movers of the story are put into, compels us to think on several unattended subjects. It induces us to think about the exact relationship between literature and mankind.



THEME: SHAPE OUT THE LATER YEARS OF YOUR LIFE, MEN !


Writers who have insight into human minds and who hold immense sympathy for mankind would hardly resist the urge for choosing one or another set of ethics. Though in his unique pattern, Coetzee, too, does so in Slow Man. Paul Rayment is a retiredphotographer who should lead a comfortable old age, a life without astonishing events. But even after being reduced to a one lagged-life, this man of aging flesh, Paul thinks about his nurses’ soft skin and shapely calves. The art of growing older is, perhaps, missing form us, the humans.


We tally our bank balances; we pay our bills in time, more or less; but we fail to address the issues of vital importance to our life, especially the life after retirement—a period that could be the most beautiful spell in one’s life. At this state one must have a clear-cut account of what has been achieved and what remains yet to be achieved. Here the question crops up that ‘what’ should really be done. Coetzee winks at that area.


The protagonist of Slow Man tries to find meaning in his life. He thinks about becoming foster father of her nurse’s son, Drago. He loves to love Marijana’s children; even he is ready to accommodate her husband in his life. Marijana’s imposing presence, and her occasional non-attendance, exposes him to his inner emptiness. He yearns for filling the gaps in his life.


Such a spell of emptiness is agonizing, especially in the later phase of our life journey. The traveler finds the road aheaddarkening. Literature provides us some light in the darkness. The great thinkers, and their writings, have upgraded the literature to the level of religion in secularized section of people. Keeping pace with this movement for providing primal education, Coetzee has carved out a striking statement in Slow Man. He has scripted a message, the message about the art of living. (Image courtesy Wikiedia Commons)

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