Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve just finished re-reading Boyhood, Youth and Disgrace by JM Coetzee. I’m a big fan of Coetzee. I was recently asked by someone if there was any point in writing books about South Africa and Apartheid and all that jazz when you have the likes of Coetzee and Gordimer around (which was an awfully mean question) and all I could say was, ‘Well … um possibly not.’In the developed West, where we are very rarely confronted with decisions of great moral import, we all seem to have a sweet but untested optimism in our own good character, in our virtuousness, our own propensity for heroism in the face of injustice or evil. Having grown up in South Africa I am deeply suspicious of anyone who thinks they would have done anything of significance – and I don’t mean voting for the Democratic Party or the PFP or joining the Black Sash – I mean Joe Slovo significant. To really stand up to the system would have taken the kind of bravery and selfless that most of us simply do not possess. This is one of the things that I like so very much about Coetzee and that so fascinates me about the reception of his books. Coetzee teases out the vast chasm between the way we perceive ourselves and the way we actually behave. Much criticism focuses on his ‘unlikeable’ or indeed ‘disgraceful’ characters and my immediate response is – you mean people like me? I think most of his characters are so typical of who we are, and how we behave. Sure, what David Lurie did in Disgrace was wrong and grubby – but could I foresee a situation in which I would do the same? You bet I could and probably worse also. Youth the second volume of the autobiographical trilogy in which he details the time he spent in London, left me feeling well and truly eviscerated.All of which goes some way to explaining, why, when confronted with his body of work and the question of what else could be said, I really didn’t have an answer.Visit Jacques Strauss's website.