August 19, 2013
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (Review)
Author: J.M. Coetzee
First published: 1999
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The last book of The Fiction of Relationship course was a wonderful finale to the experience! I wasn't expecting to like it, after all the disappointment of Beloved and The Ice Palace. To tell the truth, I was already beginning to suspect that contemporary literature is too weird for me to ever appreciate it. But Disgrace, although it can also be called weird, is a brilliant, brilliant piece of fiction!
The novel hooked me from the first line: "For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well." How awesome is this writing? "He" is an ageing university literature teacher David Lurie, whose main interest is romantic poetry and who wants to write an opera about Byron's last days. He considers his sexual life far from finished, and starts an affair with his student, 30 years his junior, which results in his losing his position at the university with a lot of bad publicity. David finds refuge at his daughter's farm, where some really bad things are about to happen and change his life dramatically.
Among the book's motives are ageing, sex, rape, social opinion, racial and land feud, animal rights and much more, all of them being beautifully interwoven into one plot. I may admit that some readers, especially female, would have problems with the protagonist, Lurie, as his attitude towards women is intolerable. At one point he convinces a girl to have sex with him motivating it with the statement that her beauty does not belong to her, and she must share it. I can't help but hate him at this moment, but I appreciate the writer's mastery at writing such a "hateable" character. Besides, his comments are always learned, original and sarcastic if not amiable.
The writing and the mood of Disgrace is very matter-of-fact, which is however only a superficial simplicity, hiding a lot of meaning underneath. After the abundance of stream-of-consciousness in my life lately it was a huge relief. Moreover, I've enjoyed South African setting: I am not very well acquainted with what is happening there, and the book gives an overview, sometimes also using regional words, which is a great mood-setting device.
In my book:
The novel is beautifully written and has a lot of substance. The realism is sometimes shocking, but not unnecessarily so, and the book makes you think without being obtrusive. Read it!