In the early seventies, a young unpublished writer returns to his native South Africa after a disgrace abroad. His name is John Coetzee, and he both is and isn’t the Nobel-winning author of this unorthodox book. Where the real Coetzee had a wife and children at the time, his doppelgänger shares a crumbling house with his widowed father and engages in fitful affairs with married women, one of whom judges him “autistic” in bed. These “facts” emerge from interviews conducted by a biographer nearly four decades later, after Coetzee’s (imagined) death. At stake is what it means to commit oneself: to a person, a place, a moral imperative. One ex-lover marvels that a man so emotionally remote should become a novelist, which requires delivering “reports, expert reports, on intimate human experience”—precisely Coetzee’s feat here. Not since “Disgrace” has he written with such urgency and feeling.