From the Nobel Prize-winning author of Disgrace, a psychologically probing, compulsively readable novel about love and the mutability of human relationships.
Renowned for his sparse yet powerful prose, J. M. Coetzee is unquestionably among the most influential—and provocative—authors of our time. With characteristic insight and a “brittle wit that forces our attention on the common terrors we don’t want to think about” (Washington Post), Coetzee here challenges us to interrogate our preconceptions not only of love, but of truth itself.
Exacting yet unpredictable, pithy yet complex, Coetzee’s The Pole tells the story of Wittold Walccyzkiecz, a vigorous, extravagantly white-haired pianist and interpreter of Chopin who becomes infatuated with Beatriz, a stylish patron of the arts, after she helps organize his concert in Barcelona. Although Beatriz, a married woman, is initially unimpressed by Wittold and his “gleaming dentures,” she soon finds herself pursued and ineluctably swept into his world. As the journeyman performer sends her countless letters, extends invitations to travel, and even visits her husband’s summer home in Mallorca, their unlikely relationship blossoms, though only on Beatriz’s terms.
The power struggle between them intensifies, eventually escalating into a full-fledged battle of the sexes. But is it Beatriz who limits their passion by paralyzing her emotions? Or is it Wittold, the old man at his typewriter, trying to force into life his dream of love? Reinventing the all-encompassing love of the poet Dante for his Beatrice, Coetzee exposes the fundamentally enigmatic nature of romance, showing how a chance meeting between strangers—even “a Pole, a man of seventy, a vigorous seventy,” and a stultified “banker’s wife who occupies her days in good works”—can suddenly change everything.
Reminiscent of James Joyce’s “The Dead” in its exploration of love and loss, The Pole, with lean prose and surprising feints, is a haunting work, evoking the “inexhaustible palette of sensations, from blind love to compassion” (Berna González Harbour, El País) typical of Coetzee’s finest novels.
About the Author
Born in Cape Town, South Africa, J. M. Coetzee is the author of twenty books, including Waiting for the Barbarians, which won South Africa’s highest literary honor, the Central News Agency Award; The Life and Times of Michael K, for which Coetzee was awarded his first Booker Prize in 1983; Boyhood: Scenes from a Provincial Life, a memoir; and several essay collections. With Disgrace, Coetzee became the first author to win the Booker Prize twice. In 2003, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Like all of Mr. Coetzee’s best books, The Pole is a textual echo chamber—gesturing to Dante, Don Quixote, George Sand and even Mr. Coetzee’s own novel Disgrace—that never feels smothered by its allusions. Quick, deft, stimulating, stripped-down but unexpectedly moving, it’s a return to form by a writer who can make music from the fewest possible notes.
— Sam Sacks - Wall Street Journal
With ‘The Pole,’ Coetzee muddies the waters of national purity with his trademark clarity . . . [T]he book approaches the politics of Polishness in true Coetzee fashion: with elegant elision, at such an angle as to be almost imperceptible . . . While some might read 'The Pole' as a love story that unfolds across a language barrier, it is at its heart a novel about language that can be told only through a love plot . . . The novel presents words and what we desire to say as two points on a map, as far apart as the poles. To confront the distance between them is daunting, but love pushes us along. — Jennifer Wilson - The New Yorker
[A] masterclass in the ‘late style’ at its best . . . among the pleasures of ‘The Pole’ are the layers it reveals. It is a book not only of the living but also of the dead. What does love mean? Coetzee wants us to consider. And memory — what consolations can it offer when we know it doesn’t last? . . . In this deeply moving novel, Coetzee reminds us of what we wish we didn’t have to remember: that everything dissolves. — David L. Ulin - Los Angeles Times
Coetzee has been giving us lessons in beauty – a certain kind of beauty – for decades . . . The Pole shows that, at 83 years old, there is no diminishing of his talents. Long may he darken our pages with prose.
— John Self - The Guardian
In The Pole, Coetzee forges an autofiction of contemplation, in which thought and inquiry take precedence over melodrama — because time is running out.
— Christian Lorentzen - Financial Times
[H]aunting and surreptitiously heartfelt… In an age of virtue signaling, Coetzee has the courage to bypass every fashionable position and reassurance and, by so doing, in The Pole, to catch some emotional truth, about loneliness and bewilderment and need, that really pierces... [As] soon as I completed it, I wanted to go back and read the whole elliptical thing again…
— Pico Iyer - AirMail
[A] svelte and melancholy novel… for a book that draws so heavily on the language and subject matter of music, The Pole remains remarkably quiet. This quietude…proves Coetzee’s masterstroke.
— Ellie Ebberlie - Chicago Review of Books
With The Pole, Coetzee, ever enigmatic, plays slowly, deliberately, with a delicate nuance that continues to impress.
— J.R. Patterson - World Literature Today
[A]n unconventional Polish pianist is entranced by a woman more than two decades his junior; a relationship J.M. Coetzee elegantly shadows with that of Chopin and George Sand. — Vanity Fair, "Best Books of the Fall"
Exquisitely elevating the fundamental influences of music and language, The Pole unequivocally affirms the often enigmatic relationships among art, love, and human experience.
— George Kendall, Booklist, starred review
[R]ich and engrossing . . . The prose is unornamented but nevertheless consistently incisive. Coetzee’s ability to render the human condition in all its vagaries is as masterful as ever. — Publishers Weekly
The writer who reinvents the rules of the genre in which he writes is an outlaw. . . . Coetzee has been an outlaw novelist since 1973. — Benjamin Ogden - New York Times Book Review
Coetzee may turn out to be one of the last great novelists, exalted by the intensity of his self-awareness and his willingness to make his home in a spiritual and intellectual impasse of which few of his contemporaries were even aware. — Pankaj Mishra - Nation
[Coetzee] is a consummate withholder, one of the great masters of the unsaid and the inexplicit. — Fintan O’Toole - New York Review of Books