Friday, August 10, 2012

Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

Admittedly this was one of the (many) books I have started reading for my course.  It won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003 and the Man Booker Prize in 1999.  That said - I thought I would also put my support behind it - just in case you still had some doubts over whether or not it was any good!

We initially meet David Lurie, and his mundane life as middle-aged professor in Romantic poetry at a university in Cape Town.  Twice divorced, he has decided he isn't one for marriage, and instead frequents prostitutes for intimacy.  On the spur of the moment - he decides to pursue one of his students, a beautiful, but uninteresting girl. He has a brief affair with the student.  A brief affair which brings his whole life, as he knows it, to a stand-still as his world falls apart around him.  Instead of admitting defeat and bowing to the pressures of the media he moves to the small farm in the countryside run by his daughter.  As he gradually adjusts into the new way of life - the peaceful countryside existence is interrupted by a savage attack, and nothing is the same afterwards. 
It would be easy to paint this novel as purely a political novel.  It is set in post-Apartheid South Africa with new languages burgeoning, and the relationship between men and women, the police and citizens, changing at a rate that David Lurie himself becomes unaware of the shifting focus happening in his country that the younger generation, especially his daughter Lucy, are subject to.  
It is a story of city vs country, men vs women, degrees vs life-experience, old south africa vs. new south africa.

It is a novel of intricacy.  There are so many things going on and yet you never feel bombarded by events or information.  There isn't a host of characters names and relations to remember.  That doesn't, however, mean that their relationships are simple.  Many of the events in the novel are unexplained, and Coetzee doesn't offer an easy solution to the problems faced by the characters.  Disgrace will make you think, feel puzzled, offer some comfort, and another puzzle.  It is not written to comfort you but it is written with such talent that whilst it makes you question events and people's testimony it doesn't unnerve you in the process.  You want to question people.

At 220 pages, Disgrace, is a short read, that said - a lot happens in those pages!  It took me an evening to read (because I couldn't nor wouldn't put it down).  As I said at the beginning - the novel has a host of awards to recommend it to you - but I would also recommend you read it.  It's a history lesson without the boring teacher and homework.
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