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THE POLE by J.M. Coetzee
J.M. Coetzee could have called it a day after his Jesus trilogy. Wide-ranging, strange and, at times confronting, it was a master’s reckoning with ageing; a quest to find some intrinsic value in having lived. To some extent, The Pole traverses similar thematic ground, albeit in a much quieter manner. An ageing pianist, the titular Pole, falls for Beatriz, a middle-aged woman he meets at a concert. He seeks to woo her; an awkward romantic notion that teeters on obsession. She is reluctant, but ultimately succumbs. When he dies, she must make sense of their brief affair.
The Pole sees Coetzee at his most refined. Spare prose, precise and unsentimental, wielded as a tool of excavation: what is the essence of late human connection? What becomes of the muse when the art fails? How do we make sense of talent? Unlike other meditations on love and old age - Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf comes to mind - there is little comfort to be found in what Coetzee unearths. It may only serve as a coda to his late masterwork, but The Pole still radiates with Coetzee’s characteristic wit, clarity and humane insight.
The Pole by J.M. Coetzee
Text Publishing, 2023