The Childhood Of Jesus – J M Coetzee

Chosen by Rachel

A haunting and surprising novel about childhood and destiny in which a boy is separated from his mother on a boat bound for a new land.

◉ “I first read this book soon after its release when Suzy brought it for me as a birthday present. I was so mesmorised/captivated/moved/wowed by the book’s simplicity but also its depth that I needed desperately to talk to someone about it. Three years later that opportunity came about in the form of ten year bookclub reunion – hurrah! The second reading allowed me to pick up on the biblical significance further and ponder the reality of these characters. It is clear Coetzee believes in the life of his characters, so this was a great opportunity to discuss their possibilities on a literal and metaphorical level. Then Sophia shared with us her understanding of religion in literature and that took this book to a whole new level!” – Rachel

◉ “There are two options with this novel. Read it as it literally is (like I did!), a story of a pretty annoying kid and the deluded adults around him. It was strangely captivating and I completely lost myself in the other-world feel of the novel. It felt to me a bit like Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant mixed with George Orwell’s 1984. The second option is to delver deeper into the story (like everyone else did!), search for the incredibly layered meaning – revealed expertly by Rach at the wonderful Volume bookstore – and enjoy the author’s intelligent plot and metaphors. Either way it’s a great read, and I can’t wait to get into the sequel The School Days of Jesus which I will undoubtedly read in the same way I read the first one!” – Suzy

◉ “I was curious about The Childhood of Jesus, and was rightfully intrigued by the title. From the beginning, the book took me on a trip I wasn’t expecting, in a reality I didn’t recognise. It felt surreal. And whilst holding the book in one hand I scratched my head with the other, in wonderment at what was really being said. One thing I did take away with some certainty was that Coetzee was himself exploring ideas around Jesus the historical figure, as well as the philosophies underpinning Christianity, faith, life, existence itself, virtue and sin, innocence and guilt, childhood and what it might mean to be “grown up” and responsible as a parent or guardian. He asked a lot of big questions, without answering them. And I was fascinated.” – Sonya

◉ “There is no doubt in my mind that The Childhood of Jesus is a wonderful and heretical book. Growing up fundamentalist Christian I was taught that one of the ways we would recognise the imminent return of Christ was when retellings and alterations to the bible emerged. ( The Childhood of Jesus uses the symbolism of a Messianic message, and is redolent with allusions to the gospels, but tells a new story in a place parallel to this world. The novel has the pared back clarity of a fable set in an ancient world. I found this both chilling and thrilling. I can’t quite decide if The Childhood of Jesus is a harbinger of the end of the world, or a sign that we are out-growing Christianity. Either way things do not bode well for Coetzee’s Jesus should he be allowed to grow up.” – Sophia

Published 2013
Jonathan Cape
288 pages


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Day 2 bookclub was held at Volume, on Church St in Nelson – a fabulous independent book store – THANKS Thomas and Stella 🙂

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