The Pole: A Novel
J. M. Coetzee
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One of Vanity Fair's "Best Books of the Fall"
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.
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