The Schooldays of Jesus by J.M Coetzee
Published by Harvill Secker
Published 18 August 2016
NB: I’ve decided to read all of the books long-listed for the Man Booker this year. Other book blogs do this so it seems like a good idea. This is the book I was looking forward to the least. The only other Coetzee book I’ve read is Disgrace and I hated it. I thought the main character was a w***** and wanted to reach into the pages of the book and punch him. Maybe that means I really liked the book? Who knows? Colour me confused.
WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT
When you travel across the ocean on a boat, all your memories are washed away and you start a completely new life. That is how it is. There is no before. There is no history. The boat docks at the harbour and we climb down the gangplank and we are plunged into the here and now. Time begins.
Davíd is the small boy who is always asking questions. Simón and Inés take care of him in their new town Estrella. He is learning the language; he has begun to make friends. He has the big dog Bolívar to watch over him. But he’ll be seven soon and he should be at school. And so, Davíd is enrolled in the Academy of Dance. It’s here, in his new golden dancing slippers, that he learns how to call down the numbers from the sky. But it’s here too that he will make troubling discoveries about what grown-ups are capable of. In this mesmerising allegorical tale, Coetzee deftly grapples with the big questions of growing up, of what it means to be a parent, the constant battle between intellect and emotion, and how we choose to live our lives.
He was expecting Estrella to be bigger. On the map it shows up as a dot of the same size as Novilla. But whereas Novilla was a city, Estrella is no more than a sprawling provincial town set in a countryside of hills and fields and orchards, with a sluggish river meandering through it.
WHAT I THOUGHT
First of all, this book has nothing to do with Jesus or the bible. I thought I’d best get that out of the way to avoid any confusion. Both of these facts relieve me as I really expected to be reading (and hating) some sort of Christian allegory. I really enjoyed The Schooldays of Jesus, even more so because I’d set myself up from the start to hate the book. I’m glad I was wrong. I’m sure Coetzee devotees will hate this book (judging by the comments on Good Reads anyway) but I found it thoroughly entertaining. The Schooldays of Jesus is very funny at times. I really liked young Davíd, the kind of child who has an endearing habit of asking the adults around him the most awkward and inappropriate questions. I can easily imagine Inés becoming flustered and red-faced at his frank questioning about the birds and the bees. The Schooldays of Jesus of well-written and easy to follow. I was compelled to keep reading from the first page until the last. There are some darker moments in the book as well which are executed well. I haven’t read the first book about Davíd, Simón and Inés (The Childhood of Jesus) but never felt like I’d missed something. The Schooldays of Jesus entertained me which must be a good thing. This isn’t my favourite book from the Booker Longlist and I can see why it never made the Shortlist (there are slightly better novels in the Longlist but I really liked it and it made me change my negative opinion about the author.