‘Diary of a Bad Year’ happens to be my first read for 2022, because it looked like a deceptively small book. The kinds that makes readers think “hey, I can finish that in one day”. Except that it took me five times as long, while ideally I should have just stopped reading it midway and saved myself some self-torture. But then how can one objectively rant about a work, if they haven’t even seen all of it? So I read all 231 pages… okay not ALL, some mind-numbingly boring paragraphs were skipped, but yes, I did read it till the end. So let’s get to why I disliked it so much.
First off, the book is about an old famous writer writing a book that’s supposed to be a collection of opinions on various topics (largely political in nature) by 6 contributing authors. The old man is simply referred to as Mr C/Senor C and if his full name is mentioned somewhere, I don’t even fucking remember it. And I literally finished reading the novel a few minutes ago. Anyway… so the book is first divided in two parts for the first few pages. The first half consists of his opinions being written for his next book. The second-half are his personal thoughts, which are largely about a gorgeous young woman called Anya he sees in his building while doing laundry. Mr C soon approaches Anya and convinces her to become his typist, for a pay of course. That’s when the book splits into three parts –
1. Mr C’s ruminations on political stuff for his book
2. The personal story and thoughts of Mr C
3. The personal story and thoughts of Anya
Now imagine having to constantly follow three narratives in each damn page. Sorry, but it’s just not for people like me who cannot multi-task and have short attention spans. Because reading ‘Diary of a Bad Year’ is like reading three bad books at once!
There is a review at the back of the novel by THE TIMES which says “Coetzee is redrawing the contours of the novel and taking it places it has rarely been before… EXHILARATING” – the critic is obviously referring to this new narrative device of splitting every page into three strands. It’s a novelty sure… but jeez…. I just hated having to deal with it. Initially I’d just be confused every third page, and would have to turn back to understand what was happening. Then for a while I started reading each chapter thrice, but not all of it thrice – first I would read the first half of the chapter, then go back for the second half, then go back again for Anya’s part. You get what I mean?
The novel is not reader-friendly at all.
To sum it up, ‘Diary of a Bad Year’ is about a cynical old man writing a book, while lusting after a young woman, and Anya dealing with the two men in her life – Mr C and her jealous asshole boyfriend Alan. At some points in the book, Mr C and Anya sound so similar, it feels like it’s all just one character pretending to be all the others. The language is okay, nothing that keeps you hooked to sentences.
On day 4, I practically flung the copy in anger, because there were only a few more pages left, and yet nothing motivated me to finish it, not even the eventual relief of not having to read it anymore. Not even the fact that Mr C had moved on from political stuff to things like cricket, love and sex. And even Anya thinks his opinions are a snooze-fest. This mixture of fiction & non-fiction elements, as in the private thoughts of an aging man versus his political opinions meant for public consumption, was an awkward combination.
This still doesn’t discourage me from wanting to read ‘Disgraced’ by the author, the one that won a Booker Prize in 1999 and probably helped him seal the Nobel Prize for Literature. I will buy/borrow and read ‘Disgraced’ some day. ‘Diary of a Bad Year’ on the other hand was a birthday gift from a friend, it’s not like I spent any money on it. So I take no joy in giving it a 1 on 5 stars, but damn, this was an awful book to start off my year with.
So yes, it’s a 1/5 from me.
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