From the moment of Costello’s arrival, the novel’s plausibility is abolished ... there is no excusing the jumbledness of Slow Man, its indecisive mix of intentions and forms. Coetzee seems to sense the novel's unwilled disorder when he writes, almost apologetically, that "somehow, in ways so obscure, so labyrinthine, that the mind baulks at exploring them, the need to be loved and the storytelling . . . are connected".
"[P]lausibility" is not, for me, the essential characteristic of a good novel. Coetzee's last book, the astonishing Elizabeth Costello, subtitled Eight Lessons, was quite as good as it was, not because of its mimetic qualities, not because its characters were fully-rounded, the situations they found themselves in authentically instructive, but because of its rigour and its intelligence.
Macfarlane doesn't like Coetzee's new novel because:
... suddenly and disastrously, the novel changes its tone and its direction. The doorbell rings. Rayment has a visitor. Standing on his step is Elizabeth Costello ... She has, we puzzlingly learn, turned up in Slow Man, because Paul Rayment is a character in the book she is writing.
Macfarlane doesn't like being reminded that a novel is not a mirror of reality, but a constructed device. He seems to be unhappy that Coetzee's novel is not a nineteenth century novel. He shares that discomfort with most of his fellow reviewers. But give me Coetzee's didactic playfulness over Macfarlane's complacency any day.