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Monday, December 19, 2016

In the Heart of the Country (1979) by J.M Coetzee


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Dust was a 1985 Spanish/French movie version of In the Heart of the Country by J.M. Coetzee.  It starred Jane Birkin as unreliable narrator Magda.
Book Review
In the Heart of the Country (1979)
 by J.M Coetzee

   Coetzee is closer to the center of the first edition of the 1001 Books list than any other author from the 20th century.  He placed an astonishing 10 titles in the first edition of the book, and keeping with the rule of thumb between volumes, lost five of them in the 2008 revision.   In the Heart of the Country was his second novel, published three years after his first, Dusklands.  International fame would not be far behind.  He won his first Booker prize in 1983 for The Life and Times of Michael K.  His second Booker prize came in 1999, and then he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003, the second South African to win (Nadine Gordimer.)   His catalog is a mainstay of book stores everywhere.  Decades later, it is still easy to find in print versions of his most obscure titles.


   In the Heart of the Country is described as "one of his more experimental novels,"  but I don't think that is entirely accurate.  Instead, I believe that Coetzee, like many young authors in the 20th century, begin with experimentation and then become "more traditional" as their books become more successful.  After all, once you have won a Booker Prize, no one is going to call into question your prose technique.  Dusklands,his first novel, was barely even that, it was more like two separate novella's that were shoe horned together to make them more viable commercially.

  Thus, I think it's fair to say that In the Heart of the Country is Coetzee's first "real" novel, even though it is still only 130 pages longs and consists of a series of numbered paragraphs, documenting the increasing madness of Magda, the 20 something daughter of a Boer widower living in an isolated part of South Africa.   Magda is your classic unreliable narrator.  Her fantasies of graphic violence against her father and an imagined replacement bride are manifested in graphic fashion, as is her repeated rape at the hands of their African servant after her violent outburst against her father.

   The back cover compares In the Heart of the Country to Faulkner in it's "feverishness" but also in the ties between sex, family and violence- three intertwined themes at the heart of many of Faulkner's stories.

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