J.M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year is part opinion piece by the main character, Señor C, ranging in topics from politics to law to everyday occurrences. They are sharp and controversial and one cannot help but to think they are Coetzee’s words on subjects like the Iraq war and literature and the act of writing itself. The second part is from the first person point of view of the main character, a lonely old man who was once a highly reputed novelist. The third part, of the bottom third of each page, is the voice of the flirtatious Anya, the girl who lives upstairs with a man named Alan, and whom the Señor asks to type his opinions. A friendship of sorts, between Anya and Señor, develops not out of the notice of jealous Alan.
The unique structure of the novel adds an interesting quality to the friendship. How it develops out of Señor’s opinions and Anya’s pity on the old man. How the antagonist’s voice comes only through Anya’s perspective. How the larger story of the world, separated and distant, affects an old man and a young girl. How passion and desire are palpable, yet invisible. It is a love story where love is not achieved through a kiss or consummation, but through words, through thoughts, and through imagination.
My personal recommendation is to read the the opinion piece straight through to the end, and then return back to the beginning to read the bottom-two-thirds. The bottom two do not read together, but there are subjects within each that compliment the other. So I suggest reading ahead in the middle-third for ten pages or so, and then going back to catch up with the bottom third. It became annoying having to read two compelling stories that were slightly together and yet separate, but they’re too engaging to complain much.