Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II

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9780670031023: Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II

Hoping to escape his South African home, dysfunctional family, and what he believes to be an impending revolution, a young man becomes disappointed with his monotonous new life in London and begins a dark pilgrimage set against the events of the 1960s. 20,000 first printing.

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Review:

After the brooding, dark menace of his Booker Prize-winning novel Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee's Youth is a slighter, more restrained work. Written in succinct, almost cold prose, it's a painfully maudlin bildsrungsroman that explores the dreary follies of youth rather than its more celebrated joys. The unprepossessing protagonist John is a South African mathematics graduate with literary aspirations, a dreamer who constantly yearns to meet a girl who will serve as his lover and muse. Having abandoned Cape Town after Sharpeville he finds Swinging '60s London grey, damp, and uninviting. Reluctantly he finds employment as a computer programmer. In between trundling from his grimy Archway bedsit to his soulless job, this autodidactic Pooter dabbles on a study of Ford Maddox Ford, composes an Ezra Pound-inspired poem (ostentatiously entitled "The Portuguese Rock-Lobster Fisherman"), and embarks on "one humiliating affair after another." Despite his artistic and romantic endeavors, John seems only able to cultivate "dull, honest, misery" and, broken by London, flees to a new programming job in Berkshire. Here he practically renounces literature and, for a while at least, concentrates on chess problems and feeding primitive computers magnetic tape. His creative and sexual drives appear to have gone, leaving him to consider the possibility that he might actually have grown up.

Like the halting, self-interrogating consciousness of John's computers, Coetzee renders his character's inner life through a series of rhetorical questions. These lend the book a curiously existentialist air but also contribute to its slightly dilatory gait. (It feels far longer than its 170-odd pages.) Coetzee's tone is so laconic it's hard, on occasions, to be entirely certain if John's poetic ambitions should be pitied or simply laughed at. However, this novel does offer an unflinchingly acute dissection of the adolescent male psyche. --Travis Elborough, Amazon.co.uk

From the Inside Flap:

A searing portrait of a young colonial in early 1960s London ? from the two-time winner of the Booker Prize.

Set against the background of the 1960s - Sharpeville, the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam ? Youth is a remarkable portrait of a consciousness, isolated and adrift, turning in on itself. The narrator of Youth, a student in the South Africa of the 1950s, studies mathematics, reads poetry, saves money, trying to ensure that when he escapes to the real world, wherever that may be, he will be prepared to experience life to its full intensity and transform it into art. Arriving in London, however, he finds neither poetry nor romance. Instead he succumbs to the monotony of life as a computer programmer, from which random, loveless affairs offer no relief. Devoid of inspiration, he stops writing. An awkward colonial, a constitutional outsider, he begins a dark pilgrimage in which he is continually tested and continually found wanting.

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