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2016 Man Booker: The Schooldays of Jesus by Coetzee

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We made it! With this book, our shadow panel has officially completed all the Longlist books. Book Worm and I read all 13 books and our three fabulous contributors managed to read quite an astounding number of them. Our final book is The Schooldays of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee. Tomorrow we will post our overall reflections of the Longlist, Monday we will post our shortlist predictions, and Tuesday the Man Booker committee will release the shortlist. Keep reading to see what we thought of this last book and for our full rankings of all 13 books.

The Schooldays of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee
US Release Date: February 2017 (currently out in the UK)
Judges: Book Worm, Jen, & Nicole
Find it/pre-order it here: The Schooldays of Jesus

Book Synopsis (from Amazon): “When you travel across the ocean on a boat, all your memories are washed away and you start a completely new life. That is how it is. There is no before. There is no history. The boat docks at the harbour and we climb down the gangplank and we are plunged into the here and now. Time begins.”

Davíd is the small boy who is always asking questions. Simón and Inés take care of him in their new town, Estrella. He is learning the language; he has begun to make friends. He has the big dog Bolívar to watch over him. But he’ll be seven soon and he should be at school. And so, with the guidance of the three sisters who own the farm where Simón and Inés work, Davíd is enrolled in the Academy of Dance. It’s here, in his new golden dancing slippers, that he learns how to call down the numbers from the sky. But it’s here, too, that he will make troubling discoveries about what grown-ups are capable of. In this mesmerizing allegorical tale, Coetzee deftly grapples with the big questions of growing up, of what it means to be a “parent,” the constant battle between intellect and emotion, and how we choose to live our lives.

Book Worm’s Review The judges played a mean trick with this selection as there is a previous book that adds to understanding how the characters end up where they are — meaning I had to read an extra book. Furthermore the way the book ends implies there will be at least one other book in the series.

So on to my scoring. This book has not scored highly for me due to a variety of reasons:

  1. In terms of originality, it is basically the same as the first book just set in a new town.
  2. The characters do not change. Each character has the same traits as flaws as in the first book and they are not working to improve themselves.
  3. Overall enjoyment: While this is an interesting book in its own right, there are other books on the list that I enjoyed a lot more.

In summary if the first book, The Childhood of Jesus, was on the list it would have scored a lot higher from me. This appears to be a middle book of a series and as such it seemed as if the characters are waiting for the next installment to resolve big issues and reveal the truth about themselves.

I actually like the series and am interested in what will happen to the characters. The problem I have is that I don’t feel this is a good choice for the list due to its transitionary nature. It is not the original first book and not the conclusive final book.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality 3/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total 13/20

Jen’s Review: I really enjoyed this book but don’t ask me why, because the reasons for my enjoyment elude me. As Book Worm mentions above, this book was the sequel to The Childhood of Jesus which I read right before this book. I thought Childhood of Jesus was better so I’m surprised this was the one that made the list whereas the first one did not.

I’m rather embarrassed to admit that I don’t really understand what it is that I just read. It was obscure and its themes seemed varied and spread out in all different directions. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you exactly what was the main message or point of the book. The Schooldays of Jesus (like its predecessor) is a book of ideas rather than a plot-driven book. In fact the plot is almost irrelevant in that its sole function is to serve as the vehicle for Coetzee’s philosophical musings. This second book takes up where Childhood left off, with David, Simon, and Ines heading towards the town Estrella, whose name just happens to translate into “star (talk about symbolism).” I presume that Simon is the Joseph father figure while David symbolizes Jesus. There’s a lot of discussion of past and future lives leading me to assume that the characters current location (in an unnamed Spanish speaking country) represents man’s life on earth. This is the sort of book that you want to read with others, preferably in a class setting in order to fully analyze and appreciate.

As always, Coetzee is a brilliant writer and this book is no exception. I disagree with BW in that because it is a sequel it is not original. I think these two books should be read together and as a collection they are original and unlike anything I’ve read. I do agree that some of the themes are similar but I also think that there is growth and change in the main characters I did take points of for plot development because like I mentioned earlier, this is a novel of ideas rather than plot. I don’t think it belongs on the shortlist but I really liked it and I will be reading the next one to see how it all plays out.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total 15/20

Nicole’s Review:

confused-dude

I don’t know what happened, but I liked it.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality 4/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot complexity 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total 18/20

Average score across all panelists: 15.3/20

Ranking of Longlist books to date:
1. Do Not Say We Have Nothing (19.5)
2. Work Like Any Other (18/20)
2. Hot Milk (18/20)
4. The Sellout (17/20)
5. The Many (16.8)
6. Hystopia (16.63)
7. My Name is Lucy Barton (16.13/20)
8. The Schooldays of Jesus (15.3)
9. His Bloody Project (14.5)
10. Serious Sweet (13.67)
11. The North Water (13.5/20)
12. Eileen (12.5/20)
13. All that Man is (11/20)

Want to try it for yourself? You can buy your copy here: The Schooldays of Jesus

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you plan on reading this book? Does it deserve to make the Man Booker Shortlist?

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tracy S #

    Oh, my goodness! Nicole, that is perfect!
    Thanks to all the reviewers for doing this- there are many books now added to the teetering mountain that is TBR. And the reviews are thoughtful and entertaining. Can’t wait to get started reading the shortlist!

    Liked by 1 person

    September 8, 2016
  2. Ola #

    That’s a book I was least interested in from the longlist. And well, I’m still not interested in reading it right now. Not the right time for me I guess, but I’ll keep in mind that even though you didn’t fully get what happened you still enjoyed it.

    Like

    September 8, 2016
    • It’s certainly not a book that will appeal to all readers. It’s not one I would readily recommend unless I really knew someone’s tastes quite well.

      Like

      September 8, 2016
  3. The fact that it is a sequel of some sorts has somehow put me off reading it. 😐

    Like

    September 9, 2016
  4. Im reading this one at the moment – only just got to the point where he is starting at the dancing academy. It’s ok so far – not wowing me but I’m not thinking of abandoning it. I am however very irritated by this device of repeatedly saying He, Simon…… Just saying Simon does x or y is fine,I don’t understand the inclusion of He all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 9, 2016
    • Interesting. I didn’t really notice it too much this it clearly didn’t bother me. I am not sure it’s one you’d like though but I could be wrong. Did you read the first one?

      Like

      September 9, 2016
      • I am thinking based on the title that He is a literary device whose meaning will be revealed in a future book. I am thinking him or Him.

        Like

        September 10, 2016
      • I didn’t read the first one – it probably would have helped my understanding

        Like

        September 10, 2016

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