This book was very Kafkaesque. I do not say that lightly, since it tends to be a hackneyed short-form that passes for literary criticism by those who read The Metamorphosis
in high school, and haven't touched Kafka since then. But this novel wasn't just Kafkaesque, it was so reminiscent and derivative (complete with heavy-handed and direct allusions to The Hunger Artist
and The Castle
), that at one point, I thought I might well have given up on it and just read ... Kafka.
But wait -- the best bits, the most poignant bits -- were the non-Kafka bits. The ones that read more as realistic character portrait of this sad, physically marred, mentally-deficient man, raised in cruelty and (it appears) squalor, and dumbly devoted to one thing: getting his Mother out of Cape Town. The first third, as Michael racks his brain to battle the bureaucracy and their poverty to get his mother out of the city; and when -- sob! -- *SPOILER ALERT*
she dies after such a gruelling journey, and he lingered in the hospital, lost and alone, these bits were beautifully rendered and heartbreaking. Coetzee presents Michael K's remarkable idiot savant
perceptions emerging from the strange and unique soup of this character's mind with somewhat overblown language, but also brilliantly. And then, it all goes awry as Michael K becomes some kind of Everyman crossed with Noble Savage, and the novel becomes allegory. Of something, who knows what.
I hate allegories. And, I hate Kafka done by anyone other than Kafka. And I really hated the switch-up in POV/narration and ham-fisted philosophizing (in case we hadn't picked up, by then, that Michael K. was a capital-S Symbol. Which just made him far less human, and therefore less sympathetic, to me. But hey, that's just me. And I hate allegories.)
This novel made me feel dumb and also angry, and not sad all the way through which is what it should have done.