In the Heart of the Country – Despair, Loneliness, Boredom…
Coetzee’s fiction can be divided into three periods: early, middle and late Coetzee. Early and late periods are similar in structure and orientation. They are abundant in traits dominant in Coetzee: despair, loneliness and boredom. In the Heart of the Country is one such early work.
Like Dusklands, its style is very obscure. Like most authors, Coetzee was more experimenting in his style at the beginning of his writing career. In IHC dreams blend into reality, making them highly indistinguishable. The themes are again colonialism, racism and sex. The story is told from the first person point of view of Magda, the daughter of a white colonialist. There is almost no story, which is not surprising. Whatever story is there, it is rendered meaningless by the obscure style. What the reader encounters is a 150 pages long succession of dreamy, meaningless sequences. Oh, but there is the quintessential Coetzee rape scene…
Andre Brink’s comment on the book is highly revealing:
“It says something about the loneliness, about the craving for love, about the relation between master and slave and between white and black, and about man’s earthly anguish and longing for salvation…”
As Brink observes, it says ‘something’. What is this something, nobody knows. Not even Coetzee. He was not able to find out what this something is, till the end of his career. And it would be highly disrespectful of a reader to ask him what this something was, as an artist does not have to explain his art; as an artist is not responsible for the stuff he creates.
A reader does not have to look for definite answers when he reads a work of art. But what if the writer makes highly spurious charges in an obscure style and then refuses to be accountable for his insupportable claims? In the Heart of the Country is such a case. Moreover the book is unreadable and unnecessary. Coetzee could have rewritten the novel in just a few lines by changing Brink’s comment a bit:
“I want to say something about the loneliness, about the craving for love, about the relation between master and slave and between white and black, and about man’s earthly anguish and longing for salvation…”
And if Coetzee were honest, he could have added:
“Actually I am very very confused about the subjects I have chosen to write about… but nevertheless I am an artist and so have written these lines…”