From South Africa to Australia, Dovey draws on family history to explore the Nobel Prize–winning writer’s work, tracing an intellectual heritage that has been passed from mother to daughter.
‘I was born in the year J.M. Coetzee published his third novel, Waiting for the Barbarians. My mother read this dark, disturbing book with its multiple scenes of torture as she breastfed me at night, while my older sister slept and the house was quiet. It was 1980. The apartheid government had declared a state of emergency in the face of growing internal revolt, and my parents were thinking of leaving South Africa again.’
For Ceridwen Dovey, J.M. Coetzee ‘has always been there, an unseen but strongly felt presence in our small family drama’. As a child, she observed with fascination her mother’s immersion in Coetzee’s writing as she worked on what would become the first critical study of his early novels.
Even now, as a writer herself, Ceridwen’s relationship with Coetzee’s books is still mediated by her mother’s readings of them: to get to him, she must first step through her mother’s formidable mind. With tenderness and insight, Dovey draws on this personal history to explore the Nobel Prize-winner’s work – how his books ‘do theory’ on themselves – while also tracing the intellectual heritage that has been passed from mother to daughter.’
In the Writers on Writers series, leading writers reflect on another Australian writer who has inspired and fascinated them. Provocative, crisp and written from a practitioner’s perspective, the series starts a fresh conversation between past and present, writer and reader. It sheds light on the craft of writing, and introduces some intriguing and talented authors and their work.
Published by Black Inc. in association with the University of Melbourne and State Library Victoria.
Watch: Ceridwen Dovey discusses On J.M Coetzee at the State Library Victoria.
Ceridwen Dovey was born in South Africa and grew up between South Africa and Australia. Her debut novel, Blood Kin, was published in fifteen countries and shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Award. Her second book, Only the Animals, …
‘This book is a treasure, with its intimate tone and shared anecdotes and thoughtful examination of Coetzee's oeuvre. It is a reflection on writing and reading, promising many satisfying rereads.’––ArtsHub
‘Of all the titles in Black Inc’s Writers on Writers series, Ceridwen Dovey’s essay On J.M. Coetzee arrives with the most intellectual excitement.’––The Saturday Paper