J.M. Coetzee is a very learned man – this guy has a Ph.D. in English, so it goes without saying that a whole lot of scholarly references pop up in his writing. Age of Iron is chock-full of references to historical figures, great works of literature and poetry, and lots and lots of classical music. At times this can totally leave you scratching your head. Never fear: just run over to our "Allusions" section or to Google if you feel like you need some extra info.
The other tricky aspect of Age of Iron is that it's set during a very specific and tumultuous historical moment in South Africa. (If you read the word "Apartheid" and were like, "huh?" check out our "Setting" section.) Aside from the reference-heaviness of the novel, we sometimes get the feeling that more is going on beneath the surface than the narrator is actually telling us. Maybe the biggest question here is, what the heck is up with this Vercueil fellow? Where did he come from? Is he even real? Why does he disappear and reappear? And what's up with the ending of this novel? (For more insight into those questions, check out our character analysis of Vercueil and the "What's Up with the Ending?" section.)
All in all, though, when you get past these concerns, Age of Iron is a really interesting and readable novel that'll suck you right in – it's hard not to feel like you're on an emotional roller coaster. In the end, even if you can't relate to the specifics of Mrs. Curren's life and experience, you can at least sympathize with her worries and uncertainties – and that is what makes this novel such a compelling and readable one.