J. M. Coetzee
Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000-2005.
Viking, 304 pages, $25.95

Unlike John Updike’s critical gourmandise, J. M. Coetzee’s approach to literary essays is that of a stringently discerning gourmet. While Updike consumes with relish then works to recreate his feast in sensuous prose, Coetzee picks at his dish, prods it with his fork, and moves it around his plate. He checks the recipe, considers alternative ingredients as well as the cook’s training and disposition, then sums up his findings in a cool, distanced style. Coetzee has collected his recent essays and introductions under the title Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000–2005, and while his discussions are as meticulous and thorough as ever, overtones of dutifulness have crowded out the sense of discovery and fascination that animated his previous volume of essays, Stranger Shores.

Coetzee opened that...


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