J.M. Coetzee is a cold fish, and James Wood is a hot fish. No one’s going to do anything about that. These are men who are firmly what they are. Hume once said that philosophies ultimately boil down to personalities. It is an insight that sounds trite when you’re young and looking for complicated answers, but it gets deeper with the years. But because they are two of the most astute literary minds of our times at the height of their powers, their respective hotnesses and coldnesses are worthy of further scrutiny.

The publication of J.M. Coetzee’s most recent collection of essays (Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000-2005) provides an opportunity for the study of these two minds, two moods, two styles. This is because it just so happens that Wood and Coetzee are interested in many of the same literary figures. And not only are they interested in the same… More…