I was 25 pages into Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello when, browsing at a bookstore, I stumbled across Judith Kitchen’s 2002 novel The House on Eccles Road. Kitchen’s title was almost identical to a fictional work penned by Coetzee’s eponymous character—The House on Eccles Street, a retelling of Joyce’s Ulysses through the eyes of “Marion” (Molly) Bloom. Kitchen’s The House on Eccles Road is also about Molly Bloom, but a re-imagined Molly in present-day Dublin, Ohio.
Much has been made of the similarity between Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello and the writer himself, but what of that between the imaginary Costello’s Eccles Street and the actual Kitchen’s Eccles Road? Could two writers on different continents have had the same idea at the same time? Kitchen tells the Voice she had been inspired by Coetzee’s Tanner Lectures, where the sections on Marion Bloom originated. (The lectures were published in 1999 as The Lives of Animals by Princeton University Press). “But then he let her go,” says Kitchen, “in favor of the story he was telling. I simply couldn’t let her go back into the oblivion she inhabited before he brought her, briefly, to life.” And what of Coetzee’s reaction to her borrowing his idea? “I did meet Coetzee after the book was coming out and he seemed pleased that I had followed in his vein. Given how decidedly taciturn he turns out to be, his ‘pleased’ pleased me.”