The first two books of J. M. Coetzee's recent trilogy, The Childhood of Jesus (2013) and The Schooldays of Jesus (2016), are extremely strange. Just when “the Australian fiction,” following the works set in South Africa and various international locations, was thought to be the last phase of Coetzee's career, the Nobel laureate changed tack. The Jesus books challenge readers and critics with their sparse tone, lengthy philosophical dialogues, and allegorical obscurity. Their difficulty seems to shed little light on some of the most intriguing questions about Coetzee's writing: namely, its form and its interaction with allegory. Beginning with a reappraisal of a classic work of Coetzee studies, this essay then lays out a theory about the connection between reading and writing allegory within traditions of what constitutes a “novel.” In the second section, examples from Coetzee's earlier fiction are analyzed, with focus on In the Heart of the Country  (1977) and Boyhood (1997). Parental roles are found to be vital in the connections between the novel form and allegory. The third section applies these analyses to Childhood and Schooldays. Focus on the books’ references to Plato and Don Quixote helps scrutinize their philosophy and reach the thesis of this essay: that with these books, Coetzee experiments with a form that goes beyond the novel.

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