The Nobel Prize winning Diary of a Bad Year is a structurally unique piece of reflexivity, presented as three distinct texts combined on each page: the first, a piece of left-wing political commentary true to the Howard/Bush/Guantanamo Bay era; the second, the inner thoughts of the author of that commentary, “Señor C” (a barely-disguised analogue for Coetzee); and, finally, the perspective of Señor C’s secretary, Anya.
The novel primary provides an opportunity to contemplate and criticise the rhetorical tricks used by an established author, and how confident prose can often be contrasted with the author’s insecurity. As you’d expect from Coetzee’s writing, it’s regularly intelligent and insightful.
I couldn’t help but feel disappointed, however. There’s abundant potential for this structure to demonstrate surprising narrative synchronicity and structural experimentation, but it’s never really met. It’s more like three related texts that just happened to land on the same page. More disheartening is the writing of Anya; Coetzee has clearly set out to create an assertive, perceptive woman, but the prose is unconvincing, particularly when contrasted with his confidence in Señor C’s writing. Too often, sadly, it comes across as what it is – an old white man writing a woman of colour.