The scale of Coetzee's reading makes most British criticism seem dully provincial.
JM Coetzee is a critic in the classic mode. His essays are models of clarity, judicious reasoning, and respectful attention to the intentions as well as the mixed achievements of other writers. I am inclined to think of Coetzee as a Confucian critic, a kind of sage who brings composure to bear on the earthquake zones of mind and heart. He is a master of prose’s lucidities, all the while cognisant of the hidden presence of poetry, which arises from the domain of the unutterable, the unconscious, the realms of disorder. Coetzee has read his history and knows its politics. Late Essays is a sustained scrutiny of fictions as psychological/political events in the real world. The essays become micro-biographies, or penetrating raids on biographies that have been done. They steer clear of happiness. Readers might baulk at their melancholic inevitabilities. But all of a sudden – and slap in the middle of the collection – they will find themselves in the lap of warm tenderness.
Barry Hill, The Monthly
This book of criticism casts all sort of gleaming spotlights, amid the shadows, from one of the major novelistic intelligences of our time. If you make the effort, it will shine and shine. The piercing passion of Coetzee’s feeling for literature is pulled back, but the degree of constraint only makes it more intense.
Peter Craven, The Australian
Coetzee the critic is every bit as good as Coetzee the novelist.
One of the greatest writers of our time.
The subject matter ranges from adultery and unrequited love to loneliness and society's double standards. Australian readers will particularly enjoy the piece on Patrick White, whom Coetzee regards as the greatest writer Australia has produced. What makes the collection so enjoyable is that each essay combines literary critique with literary biography, and most also include a discussion of the writer's literary influences and the historical context.
Nicole Abadee, Australian Financial Review
Coetzee’s essays are exemplars of his own careful reading while also providing engaging, accessible, and informative insights into writers and their works. The scope of this new collection is wide, encompassing familiar and less familiar writers. It includes four essays on Australian writers. His insights are those of a fellow writer who faces similar issues in tackling problems of narration, but one who has, in addition, the sensibility of a literary scholar and teacher. Above all, he brings the perspective of one who has much to teach us about slow reading.
Sue Kossew, Australian Book Review
It is Coetzee's response to Murnane, whom he interprets as a "radical idealist", that is the highlight of Late Essays. Coetzee examines in detail the way in which Murnane has transubstantiated the base matter of his life into extraordinary, multifaceted, generically ambiguous fictions, firmly rejecting the idea that the formal peculiarities and obsessive qualities of Murnane's writing speak of an absence of genuine feeling. In making an impassioned case for Murnane's "emotional conviction", Coetzee reveals a striking affinity with his subject and provides an example of his literary criticism at its very best.
James Ley, The Sydney Morning Herald