vendredi 11 avril 2008

Wating for the Barbarians

Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians is a slim book though one the leaves a deep impression. The plot is bleak, the characters flawed, the actions all hopeless and the style is pared down to the bone. It is a story of an old man, a town magistrate, who lives in a town on the edge of a nameless 'Empire'. Beyond the town limits are the fearful barabarians who (supposedly) threaten 'civilisation' with chaos and destruction.

The town magistrate (never named in the novel) becomes involved with a 'barabarian' girl whom he 'rescues' from a group of prisoners brought in one day by the army. The relationship between the two is a metaphor, of course, for the Empire's exploitation and oppression of the 'inscrutable other'. This realtionship does not and cannot last and the steps the 'hero' takes to absolve himself of what he sees as his guilt, not only for the deformed relationship he has subjected the younger girl to, but also his part in the wider crime of Empire lead on to his destruction but, ultimately, to his escape.

I was suprised to read that the book was published as long a go as 1980 - because in the current war on terror nonsense of a context, the novel seems a lot more contemporary. It's a fantastic read on a lot of levels.