Tim Mohr, a former DJ and a translator, reviewed “The Box”, a novel by Günter Grass, which I haven’t read yet, in the Times Book Review.
Mr. Mohr writes: ‘All of which shows a remarkable willingness to kick a hole in the usual self-importance of a prize-winning author. Just compare “The Box” with “Summertime,” another recent fictionalized gaze in the mirror from a Nobel laureate, J. M. Coetzee. The Coetzee of “Summertime” has already died, making the entire book self-eulogy; Coetzee is in essence publicly fantasizing about what people will say of him after he dies, which seems narcissistic regardless of how unflattering the portrait drawn. The riddle for Grass, on the contrary, is what his kids think of a living, breathing man, one who is present — if only with a fictional microphone. Coetzee’s book seems a plea for immortality, Grass’s an acknowledgment of mortality. In “The Box,” Grass recognizes a fundamental reality: he is but one member of a family whose decisions have affected the rest, and often not for the better. End of story.’
I’m not at all sure if Mr. Coetzee’s novel “Summertime”, which I have read, is a plea for immortality. And I wonder whether Coetzee’s undertaking is more narcissistic than Grass’s.
We use the word “narcissistic” lightly nowadays.