July 28, 2017

Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee

Waiting for the Barbarians by J M CoetzeeMy book club is currently working through short books. So we’re now on J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians which is just 170 pages long.

But it should be a great 170 pages as not only has J.M. Coetzee won the Nobel Prize for Literature, this book has also won the CNA Prize, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize AND the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

First chapter sets the scene – we’re with the Magistrate (no one in the book has a name) in a frontier town. An investigator of the Third Bureau comes to find out what the Barbarians are plotting against the Empire. And the Magistrate (our narrator / central character) starts to feel uneasy about the behaviour of the Empire.

That theme continues through the book, and we explore where that leads.

I didn’t really enjoy reading this book, and I wouldn’t read it again. The back describes it as “an allegory of oppressor and oppressed” and it is a surprisingly easy read despite that. But I just didn’t enjoy reading it, didn’t engage with it, and didn’t really care what happened to any of the characters. A bit tedious really.

However, it is interesting that at no point are we given any reference points on which to hang the story. The empire could be the Romans – but they have muskets. The geography is a place of snow, and wind, and hot summers, and desert, and a lake and mountains! It almost makes me think of the made up medieval places you find in computer games.

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