Sunday, April 12, 2009

Slow Man

Paul Rayment has a piece missing.

Most relevantly for the plot he has lost a leg as a result of being run down by a reckless teenage driver.

He suffers also from a range of personality lacunae, the piercing absence of offspring in his subsiding existence, and a near total blockage when it comes to technological modernity.

Born French yet brought up down under, Rayment bemoans his lack of a true home: "I am not the we of anyone."

I might add here that Rayment isn't quite all there too when it comes to the substance required to support a novel in the role of principal protagonist.

As if sensing this, the author changes the tack of the story around half-way through when he introduces a meta-fictional character called Elizabeth Costello, the eponymous lead from an earlier Coetzee novel.

Costello informs Rayment (as if we hadn't already figured this out for ourselves) that "your missing leg is just a sign or a symbol or symptom...of growing old, old and uninteresting."

Unfortunately by this stage it is the novel itself which is growing uninteresting. I don't have a problem with these kinds of characters per se, but the effect of 'the Costello woman' is to make very palpable the "haze of irritation" that Rayment feels regarding this shute. The device is by its very nature self-indulgent because Costello's behaviour strips the realism from everything and everybody around her, leaving the reader with the impression that plot and character are here little more than artifacts to give some life to the author's own introspective musings on the underlying subject matter.

Other than that we have a short, well-written account of a man adapting to newly constrained circumstances and a family full of stereotypical former Yugoslavs, to which belongs Rayment's Croatian nurse and potential love interest, Marijana. No masterpiece, but not a dud either.

No comments: