From a personal library, one would expect personal criticism. But Coetzee provides no such thing, if by personal we mean sentimentalized reflections on the moments in his life at which he encountered such books or the lessons he has taken from them and tried to bring into his own fiction. In fact, these essays could be described as antipersonal. The hero is always the writer under discussion … Coetzee is as perspicacious and erudite a guide as one could hope for. His biographical sketches of the life and times of the authors he addresses are excellent, concretely informative while also marbled with interesting tidbits … He is gravedigging, with probity, with the greatest reverence for the craft they share, and in this way is saying thank you in the only way one writer can really say it to another, which is by writing about them well.
A writer of JM Coetzee’s stature needs no preamble, and Late Essays does not offer one, plunging the reader directly into the literary criticism that the novelist has accumulated over the past 11 years … Coetzee’s essays are different; this book emerges as an engaging series of master classes in novel writing, from which we might distil a selection of dos and don’ts … The culture believes the western male to be the image of genius, and enlists Coetzee, a male genius in the western tradition, to consider the subject. Though Coetzee himself is a wonderful critic and writer, a ‘radical idealist’ perhaps, in the vein of Flaubert or Murnane, his list of recent commissions reveals that the highest echelons of literary criticism remain a conservative field.
Coetzee focuses less on youthful panache than in what a seasoned writer with accumulated (often painful) experience can bring to an oeuvre … Coetzee’s essays on writers as diverse as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Daniel Defoe, Heinrich von Kleist, Gustave Flaubert, the Australian Patrick White and Leo Tolstoy also pay tribute to the skills that maturity can bring … The most intriguing essay is one on Philip Roth, a rare occasion where Coetzee tackles one of his contemporaries. Coetzee looks at the Nemeses quartet, describing the novels as ‘minor’ works, redolent of a writer whose powers are on the wane.