[Book Review] Disgrace by J.M Coetzee

I finished Disgrace over a week ago, and has since been at pains to write how I feel about it. For one, reading this book felt like self-flagellation.

Twice-divorced, David Lurie is a Professor of Communications and Poetry at the University of Capetown in South Africa during apartheid. While he does not particularly have any respect for his job, he goes through the obligatory motions, don’t we all sometimes? His personal life does not ooze or inspire much excitement either; he has paid sex once a week and spends his free time struggling to interrogate the works of famous poets. Until he has a chance meeting with a girl who is also a student of his, and his life noticeably changes. For a while, everything revolves around this girl, and they have a whirlwind sexual relationship [that I found to be deeply disturbing]. But in the hastiness in which this book unravels, this relationship quickly comes to an anticlimactic end, with the girl filing sexual harassment charges against David. And as is often the nature of these things, his misfortune quickly unfolds into a public spectacle, which forces David to resign from his position at the university, in lieu of a public admission of guilt.

Following this ignominious end to his career,David heads to his daughter’s farm in Grahamstown. It’s a good hideout, no one knows him here, or even remotely appreciates his intellectual capacity. His relationship with his daughter, Lucy, is dry but functional. Life is boring, but he gets by. Until one day he and his daughter are victims of a gory attack, and things quickly come to a head. His relationship with Lucy strains, then bitterly sours, and towards the end [of the book], there is a series of bizarre events and decisions-better experienced inside the pages-which are hard to move on from.

This book is brilliantly written. The poetic references especially make even the errant sentences sound important, well thought out,consequential. And at the same time, I felt like some of the pages had that coarse first-draft feeling about them. Raw.I found this nothing if not refreshing.

But I did say it felt like self-flagellation, especially in the days after I finished it. For instance, why did J.M Coetzee write Lucy to be such a complex character, with a decision system that is so hard to understand? Why did he arbitrarily bring up the prospect of a same-sex relationship, and then promptly abandon its pursuit? A relationship, by the way, that I so desperately wanted to see developed. More importantly, why did he, a white man as far as I can tell, decide to write his black characters as he did? Was it in a mere pursuit of a story, or was he deliberately provoking some thought?

Overall, this is a book I am keen to recommend. It is the first of 2017 that made me curse out, shed tears and want to rip it apart. Only in a span of a few pages.Highly recommended.

Rating: 5/5

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