Given simply the title of J. M. Coctzee’s most recent novel, Life & Times of Michael K (Viking Press; New York), it is clear that this is an adventure in Kafka land, which literary land developers (novelists, critics, and those taking classes that will qualify them to peddle space) have been clearing, bulldozing, excavating, and building upon for years. Now there is a veritable forest of upscale condominiums on the unreal estate, all of which are both different yet the same. Anyone who had a bit too much to drink might try to get through the wrong door–yet it probably wouldn’t make a great deal of difference if admission was gained: it would be interpreted as being Profound.
This time, there’s an additional touch to the decor, as evidenced by the Life & Times portion of the title: a bit of 18th-century architectural flourishes are tacked on, such as a petty, bound picaro. However, the interior is done by the firm that has draped the entire development: the august firm Angst & Ennui. Coetzee’s novel is built with modern materials: pasteboard instead of plaster; pressboard in lieu of pine. On the surface, there is a pleasant appearance (at least with regard to the surrounding edifices), but one couldn’t live there too long before he noticed that the taps leak and that the hinges are undone. Indeed, the entire structure is not unlike one of those imposing homes in California–built on the edge of a cliff.