J.M. Coetzee’s books are not easy to read. His writing is not easy to comprehend either at times. It takes a while for the reader to figure where he is going with the plot, but once the reader gets the hang of it, it is a cakewalk from thereon. Every time I pick up a Coetzee, I am a little apprehensive of how is it going to turn out. I know for a fact that the book will not be a happy one. His books generally are not. That is another supposition I kept in mind when I started reading his latest book, “The Childhood of Jesus”.
Do not go by the title of the book. While the book is allegorical in nature, it is quite different from the childhood of Jesus. I think most readers would be tempted to read this one because of the title, however it is very different. The novel is very elusive. It is mysterious in so many ways and that is why to me in most places, it was a complex read. The book takes place in an alternate reality (see what I mean about the complex nature of the book), following a man named Simon and a boy named David, who have come to a place called Novilla. They aren’t related. Simon has appointed himself as David’s guardian and he wants to search for David’s real mother, going only by his instincts and nothing else. They do not know how she looks or what her name is. This is how the book begins and this in short is the plot of the book.
The book is vast and sometimes as a reader I stopped looking for any similarities with the birth and the childhood of Jesus. The city or country that Simon and David are in is quite difficult to explain. There is almost no sense of time there or sometimes sense of place. There is a dock where Simon works and meets new people and in the course of the book meets some more new people, however the associations are kind of vague and on loop for some time.
The themes that emerge from the book are vague as well and yet so strong at times: the search for meaning in a person’s life, strife, disengagement, passion, the sense of the self and a whole lot of objectivity in a literary novel of this nature and scope. While the plot is ingenious and also intriguing to a great extent, my only fear was that of getting lost in this book of vast proportions (and this has got nothing to do with the number of pages). Overall: I really enjoyed this book. It was vague in parts, but the writing was first-class and just because of this I had to give it five stars.