Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II (by J.M Coetzee)


Coetzee’s Youth is the second in order of his three fictionalised books: Boyhood (first) and Summertime (third). In Boyhood, the young boy, John, is living with his parents, is a good student at school, keeps his school life a secret and has issues with his father.

In Youth: the young boy in boyhood has turned ‘nineteen but he is on his own feet, dependent on no one’. p144 He is studying mathematics at the university of Cape Town. His aim is to become a mathematician and then go abroad. With his separation from his parents in Youth, ‘he is proving something: that each man is an island; that you don’t need parents’. p144

In other to survive while he is a student, John takes up various odd jobs; library work, assisting students in Maths and Drama, coaching dummies for their matriculation exams, collecting statistical data for the municipality.

The Youthful John, however, has problems with his relationships and we see most of his encounters with women grow sour. The first in line is Jacqueline, a nurse, trained in midwifery at Guy’s hospital in London. John has not been with a nurse before but he learns that ‘nurses grow cynical about morality,’ that ‘nurses are starved for sex,’ that ‘they fuck anywhere, anytime’. p147 One day, Jacqueline discovers written in John’s diary about not being able to write. She gets annoyed and tells John, ‘if I am destroying your peace and privacy and your ability to write, let me tell you from my side that I have hated living with you, hated every minute of it, and can’t wait to be free’. p149

Precipitated by John’s tenacity to become an artist, he prepares to escape his homeland and ‘go to abroad to devote himself to art’. p161 His readiness to travel abroad gains momentum when he experiences mass demonstrations of workers that disrupts his tutorial class. Giving him the right to think: ‘what is the country coming to when one cannot run a mathematics tutorial in peace?’ p174

In the long run, John ‘flee[s]’ p176 South Africa and arrives in London. Once in London, he works as a computer programmer at IBM for over a year and then comes to a conclusion that his ‘future does not lie with IBM’ p232 and so resigns.

John would then tour bookshops after his resignation, buying books but later realises that his savings are spent on buying books. He would quit the book buying altogether.

Coetzee’s Youth narrates John’s experiences as he escapes South Africa to London where he hoped to make meaning of his life. Youth is written in Coetzee’s usual, fashionable present tense form but with a third person narrator. This narrative style therefore separates the author from his character John. Youth was first published in Great Britain in 2002 by Secker & Warburg.

4 Responses to Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II (by J.M Coetzee)

  1. winstonsdad says:

    I look forward to your view on summertime I like the first two the first in the series more than this but I enjoyed his description of growing up in the south africa of the time and why he had to leave it ,but I really didn’t like summertime so look forward to what you think of it ,all the best stu


  2. A great reivew, Geosi. I’m hooked and I would love to read this book which I may not fully appreciate until I have read the other two, Boyhood and Summertime as well. But somehow I get the feeling that each of the books makes complete reading on its own.


  3. zibilee says:

    It sounds like the title character was a bit misogynistic at times, which frustrates me, but as a reader who is intensely interested in Coetzee’s life, I really want to check these books out at some point. Thanks for the very detailed and nicely written review. I enjoyed it.


  4. […] a revised edition that embodies three of his fictionalized memoirs – thus – Boyhood, Youth and […]


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