A story so powerful that it exasperates; a plot so deep that it exhausts and a narrative so angst inducing that it literally drives one to involuntary rage. When I first read “The Life and Times of Michael K” by Coetzee, the experience was so unsettling that I resolved never to read this giant of contemporary literature again. The one word that remained etched in my mind after the experience with “Michael K” was ‘grime’. A loathsome, repulsive, revolting grime. Reneging on my own self-imposed boundaries, I picked up “The Schooldays of Jesus” on an impulse and suffice it to say came perilously close to losing my composure by the time I finished the book. The master of melancholia, the beacon of bleakness and the purveyor of provocation, Coetzeee has yet again succeeded beyond describable measure in ruffling my feathers!
Simon and Ines arrive at the non-decrepit town of Estrella having ‘escaped’ the law in Novilla. The reason for their fleeing Novilla is David a six year old boy. Ines, Simon, David and their faithful Alsatian Bolivar initially find refuge in a farm owned by three elderly sisters and managed by Roberta, a boisterous and enthusiastic woman. Picking grapes and olives, Simon and Ines are always on the lookout for an appropriate educational academy for David. David is of an irritating and peculiar character causing immense frustration to his parents (or are Simon and Ines his parents?) with his bull headed and rigid attitude. Finally aided by the monetary larges see of the sisters, David is enrolled in a unique Academy of dance run by the beautiful Ana Magdalena and her musically talented husband Senor Juan Sebstian Arroyo. While Simon and Ines are expectant of David transforming into a responsible boy from a petulant trouble maker, the Academy holds dark secrets into whose depths David is unwittingly sucked into. At the core of such mystery is a museum attendant and a worker at the Academy, Dmitri.
Coetzee weaves such a weft of tragedy that I was tempted to hurl the book out the window midway. The leeway and lenience given to undeserving characters induced me to think about penning an alternative plot that involved a liberally committed murder, administration of a few tight slaps and delivering a couple of well-directed kicks. The violence which Coetzee provoked in me bears ample testimony to the powerfully influential style of writing which has ensured that the man is the recipient of all the recognisable literary awards (including the Nobel).
By the time I reached the last words of “The Childhood of Jesus”, I was a trembling mass of anger, despondence and frustration. And yet again i have resolved never to read Coetzee, a resolution in whose maintenance I have absolutely no confidence whatsoever!