Jan 18, 2011

Book review: Disgrace

Two people have suggested that I read J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace. And so, I finally did. I tore through it in five days which is to say; I liked the story. Spoiler alert: there isn't a happy ending. It's quite unsettling in fact. But, you might have gathered as much from the title and synopsis on the jacket.

Disgrace is set in South Africa and tells the story of an aging professor, David Lurie, twice divorced, who has an affair with one of his young students at Cape Technical University. The affair quickly turns sour, is publicized, and facing sexual harassment charges, he resigns from the university. Disgraced and with no real plans, he leaves his home to live with his daughter Lucy, in the country. He is unfamiliar and judgmental of her folk/hippie way of life. Nevertheless, he stays with her and helps to sell flowers at the market, lend a hand at the animal shelter and tend the garden on his daughters plot of land. Helping at the animal shelter David develops empathy for animals; dogs in particular. However, trouble (another disgrace) soon falls upon them. Three strangers beat David badly, rape his daughter and rob their house. In a final act of indignity, the men shoot the dogs in Lucy's kennel. The police are notified and they investigate, however it is clear that they will not be helpful in bring justice to David and his daughter. His daughter becomes pregnant as a result of the rape and is forever changed by the events. In the end, so is David.

This book is kind of like a train wreck. It was not easy to digest, but with sympathetic curiosity I continued to turn the pages. The ending is very dark and final; true to life in my opinion. And the way that dogs are treated in this book is clearly a metaphor for the way people treat eachother in life. It's an interestingly grim story of harsh reality, brutality, severity.


Kendall Defoe said...

I read it four times and lent it to someone who turned out to first hate the premise and style of the book and then soon thanked me for lending it to her.
Coetzee is not for everyone, I know that, but he should be commended for at least trying to discuss the unpleasant business of male urges and what it means to be a white South African today.

Michael O'Hara said...


I agree, it's an interesting, albeit dark book. I'll have to take a look at Coetzee's other works.