In the late eighties, the professor in charge of our research group invited us regularly to his Muswell Hill house for debates that would often extend, over dope and Rioja, into the next morning. Let’s call him Richard, it is as good a name as any. Richard had the most extensive library of dog-eared paperbacks I’d ever seen, a mixture of non-fiction that betrayed his earlier Communist party affiliation and obscure novels, many in French and Spanish.
It was Richard that lead me to the novels of JM Coetzee, for which I am indebted. Coetzee is for me the touchstone of all novelists. Richard is my reference point for that generation of dejected former Communists that sold out, first to impotent liberal-humanist posturing, then eventually to free-market economics. That generation are accountable for much of the nastiness of Western government and its pernicious influence on the rest of the world. They opened Pandora’s box, and I am not at all certain that it can be resealed.
Coetzee’s Age of Iron condemns the impotence of liberal-humanist posturing in South Africa’s apartheid era, a form of champagne cowardice that was equally clear within the Moroccan blue walls of Muswell Hill. Using the first person point of view, Coetzee makes the reader a co-protagonist in this unmasking. No other perspective would have served his narrative model so powerfully in this truly heartbreaking story. It ends with the faintest hint of release but nothing that could be considered absolution.