Diary of a Bad Year (2007): Coetzee between essay and autofiction

  • Lucia Claudia Fiorella Capa International Education
Keywords: Genre, Hybridization, Autofiction, J.M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year, Essay


In his ‘Australian’ phase (that is, after 2002) J.M. Coetzee seems to have taken a decidedly anti-narrative turn towards hybridization of non-fiction and auto-fiction. In particular, Diary of a Bad Year is marked by the polemic character of its social and political criticism, and by the author’s unusual willingness to acknowledge that analysis as his own, albeit in his typical oblique ways.

The work – which is neither an essay, nor a novel, and not even a diary but a mixture of the three, eluding any attempt to define its genre – dramatizes the difficulty of being a man and an intellectual in these times and at an old age, and settles it graphically by dividing the page in three horizontal sections in a Freudian and Dostoevskian succession. Freudian, because in the upper part one reads the ‘strong opinions’ (short pamphlets) by a certain ‘John C’ (a manifest alter ego for the author himself) whereas the lower sections tell about the solitude and shabbiness of the man writing those pamphlets, and of the infatuation that makes a caricature of him; Dostoevskian, because – as a real underground man – John C unveils a whole range of not always commendable motives prompting his activity as a writer and his life choices; and also because it is in the basement of his apartment block that he encounters the alluring young woman whom he will later offer a Dostoevskian job as a typist – whereas J.M. Coetzee has her perform the role of the implicit reader.

The partition of the page – which imposes a non-sequential reading, arduous even for expert readers – enables Coetzee to stage his abdication to authorial authority (because the ‘strong opinions’ in the upper part of the page are to be gradually influenced by the reader Anya, who will later be entrusted with the narratorial function) as well as to expose as fictional any attempt to draw novelistic and essayistic rhetoric apart.       


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Author Biography

Lucia Claudia Fiorella, Capa International Education

Lucia Claudia Fiorella has earned a doctorate in Anglo-American Literature from the University of Florence (Italy) where she has also taught English Literature. She has published the first Italian full-length study on J.M. Coetzee (Figure del Male nella narrativa di J.M. Coetzee, ETS, 2006) and edited a few classics of Anglo-American literature (Dickens, Hawthorne, Conrad). As a comparatist, she has contributed eight substantial entries to the Dizionario dei Temi Letterari (UTET, 2007), and has worked extensively on a number of issues regarding auto/biographism, such as the semantics of the use of the present tense, the epistemology of secret in confessional writings, the influence of Post-Structuralism on the theory of autobiography. Other interests lie in the critique of religious enthusiasm in the age of Enlightenment, literary representations of madness, and the relation between fictional and documentary accounts of polar expeditions at the turn of the 20th century. In the last few years she has also worked on contemporary visual and performative arts, especially when intersecting with literature. She is presently instructor of Italian and Comparative Literature in American programs based in Florence.


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How to Cite
Fiorella, L. (2014). <i>Diary of a Bad Year</i&gt; (2007): Coetzee between essay and autofiction. Between, 4(7). https://doi.org/10.13125/2039-6597/1155
In the Texts. The Long Modernity of Elocutio