I've just written a wee review of Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year over on The Book Depository:
In J.M. Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year an ageing writer, J.C., who strongly resembles Coetzee himself, finds himself inappropriately drawn to his young amanuensis Anya. Her partner, Alan, is none too happy about Anya's working relationship with J.C.. Anya is untroubled by what she knows to be going through J.C.'s head, but is somewhat perturbed by some of the things that he has written and that she has to type up for him.
With Elizabeth Costello, and with Slow Man, Coetzee, one of the most brilliant novelists writing today, has shown himself to have a profound interest in the novel's form. Elizabeth Costello is a collection of philosophical essays just about holding together as a novel, as the essays we read are, nominally, Costello's own writings. In Slow Man, Costello arrives on the scene again to tell the principal protagonist, Paul Rayment, that she has invented him: a third of the way through what seems a (wonderfully written) conventional novel and Coetzee gets up to all sorts of destabilizing, metafictional tricks.
In Diary of a Bad Year, the tricks aren't as disturbing, but the interest in playing with form is still highly evident. Most of the pages of Diary of a Bad Year are split into three horizontally demarcated sections: we read J.C.'s non-fictional essays; Anya's take on their relationship; and then J.C.s take on his deepening involvement with Anya and Alan.
This clever structure, however, doesn't stop the novel being unsatisfying in a number of ways: J.C.'s essays aren't fully developed enough entirely to convince; and the accompanying story of the bizarre love triangle is too thin a fare fully ever to engage the reader. Coetzee's brilliance is never in doubt and this is, certainly, a must-read book (it should be read to see what Coetzee, a world-class practitioner, is trying to do with the novel), but it is, at times, an infuriating and frustrating read.