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Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee: Here and Now
The Journal takes a look at the recently-published collection of letters between two literary giants
Daniel Davies
Sunday, 21 April, 2013 | 15:30

Here and Now collects the correspondence between Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee, two writers who occupy similar constellations in the literary imagination, written between 2008 and 2011. After meeting for the first time in 2008, Coetzee proposed to Auster they begin to exchange letters, in the hope they would: "God willing, strike sparks off each other". The letters are a treat, and offer a valuable account of the life of the modern author.

As the collection progresses, their relationship becomes more intimate and less formal, eventually leading Auster to confess that Coetzee has become his "absent other" — a constant companion to his daily life. Time passes, novels are published (the collection covers the publication of roughly four books), and a vivid, gruelling portrait emerges of the author in the global literary marketplace. Errant critics, chaotic literary festivals and charlatan literary journalists all provide entertaining subjects for the authors’ penetrating gaze.

The correspondence shifts between quixotic forays into global politics and more serious inquisitions into philosophical matters. Their treatment of the financial crisis (Coetzee’s solution is that they simply replace the old ‘bad’ numbers with new ‘good’ numbers) and the Israel-Palestine conflict (make Dick Cheney homeless and relocate the state of Israel to Wyoming, Auster suggests) typify their irreverent attitude towards major world crises. However, when their attention is focused on an issue close to their hearts, such as sport, much of their analysis is generous, engaging and insightful. These are two of the greatest literary minds at play, each exchange peppered with wry humour, their strong personalities shining through every letter.

Auster and Coetzee become welcome companions; slightly curmudgeonly old grumps railing against the decline and fall of modern society, yet warm and intelligent friends. Their genuine affection for one another is the lasting impression these letters leave.

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