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In one volume, JM Coetzee's majestic trilogy of fictionalised memoir, Boyhood, Youth and Summertime.

In one volume, JM Coetzee's majestic trilogy of fictionalised memoir, Boyhood, Youth and Summertime.

Scenes from Provincial Life opens in a small town in the South Africa of the 1940s. We meet a young boy who, at home, is ill at ease with his father and stifled by his mother's unconditional love. At school he passes every test that is set for him, but he remains wary of his fellow pupils, especially the rough Afrikaners.

As a student of mathematics in Cape Town he readies himself to escape his homeland, travel to Europe and turn himself into an artist. Once in London, however, the reality is dispiriting: he toils as a computer programmer, inhabits a series of damp, dreary flats and is haunted by loneliness and boredom. He is a constitutional outsider. He fails to write. Decades later, an English biographer researches a book about the late John Coetzee, particularl

y the period following his return to South Africa from America. Interviewees describe an awkward man still living with his father, a man who insists on performing dull manual labour. His family regard him with suspicion and he is dogged by rumours: that he crossed the authorities in America, that he writes poetry.

Scenes from Provincial Life is a heartbreaking and often very funny portrait of the artist by one of the world's greatest writers.


Compelling, funny, moving and full of life.


Here in Summertime, passion exceeds argument. Here for a moment she [the reviewer] answers as a reader not with her head but with her heart.

Australian Literary Review

As the [fictional] biography unfolds, the picture that emerges is devastatingly honest, charming, at times funny, but always self critical. The book is not too cool or too neat. It is a stunning achievement by a man at the height of his powers.

Sandy McCutcheon, The Courier-Mail

... this third volume of fictionalised biographies both odd and brilliantly executed, its main character a distinctly insignificant figure.

Peter Craven, The Age

Summertime is an exhilarating read. Like being played with by a magnificent lion whose paws sometimes caress but at other times the muscle and the claw send you spinning. The sly joke is that this lion puts the idea into his text that he, the writer, is inconsequential. Here is a paradox: a man such as this can write words that touch readers at the deepest level.

Hellen Elliot, The Age

To my mind,' she adds, 'a talent for words is not enough if you want to be a great writer. You have also to be a great man. And he was not a great man.' In the flesh, JM Coetzee, the prince of self-reproach, may well second this opinion, but I'll object. Summertime is a great experiment from a fine writer and one day, when he dies a second time, the gap will be too vast to fill.

David Astle, The Book Show, Radio National

Summertime is both an elegant request that the sum of Coetzee's existence as a public figure should be looked for only in his writing, and ample evidence, once again, why that request should be honoured.

Thomas Jones, The Guardian

... you'll relish a refreshingly amusing and human foible-ridden story.

Qantas, The Australian Way

... rich offerings as an imaginatively distorted and distorting portrait of the artist as outsider.

Patrick Denman Flanery, Times Literary Supplement

... this is a Federer game we are watching, all touch, balance and fluency, and its shapes need time to settle in the mind.

Inga Clendinnen, The Monthly

Where Summertime evokes South African life in the 1970s, the writing is luminous, revealing intellectual and emotional subtlety of a very high order.

Andrew Riemer, Sydney Morning Herald

This is a gratifying conclusion to Coetzee's trilogy and can be highly recommended as a cerebral but compulsively readable experiment in autobiography.

David Cohen, Australian Bookseller and Publisher

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    September 1, 2011

    Vintage Australia

    498 pages

    RRP $32.99

    Online retailers

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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    September 28, 2011

    Random House Australia

    498 pages

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