J. M. Coetzee's late fictions display a recurrent fascination with attitudes of faith and belief. This preoccupation has been read sometimes as an effort to reinvigorate the novel's engagement with materiality and embodied life, other times as an elegy to the waning power of belief in fiction. But belief is not a monolithic term in Coetzee's late work, nor does his disposition toward it remain static. This article examines two texts that display a related yet evolving concern with faith and belief—Elizabeth Costello (2003) and The Childhood of Jesus (2013). These works not only share a thematic interest in various forms of belief; they are also linked by the scene of a petitioner “at the gate.” In the final lesson of the earlier novel, aging novelist Elizabeth Costello finds herself in a purgatorial border town, where she must produce a statement of belief in order to pass on. In the opening paragraphs of Childhood, the characters arrive on the other side of a similar portal, entering a world whose institutions reject belief as a form of unreasoned, passionate commitment. Where Costello refuses the institutional demand for belief, insisting that belief in fiction is incompatible with the stronger form of commitment in excess of reason, Childhood's characters attempt a reconciliation between reading and believing. Read together, these texts present an apocalyptic vision of the novel after the end of formal realism, when readerly belief requires more than a weak trust in fiction's mimetic capacities.

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