Disgrace

 

PD*416227 

 

Ahem. My official review:

This book made me want to read Twilight. Yes, Twilight: perfectly perfect young people falling in love and never growing old. God, I hope that’s what’s in store for me there. I need an antidote to Disgrace.

It affected me more than I thought it could, in ways I hadn’t imagined possible. At page ten I would have readily given it five stars; the writing is superb. Halfway through I’d have given it four. Excellent, but slightly annoying. At the moment I finished it, shouting “WHAT?? What kind of ending is THAT???” and wondering if I was going into shock, I’d have demanded stars back for ruining my life. A little distance was needed before I could consider it rationally again.

The word disgrace is what struck me with nearly every page. Coetzee’s writing is like that. Tight. There’s no escaping what he wants you to see. It’s not outrageously blatant, but it’s none too subtle either. It’s good. So good you might be tempted to revel in it. Do not. This is not for the faint-hearted. Run. Read something easy, something happy. Anything. If you stay Coetzee will turn that word, disgrace, in your mind a hundred different ways. I’m no stranger to the word. I have been a disgrace, been disgraced, disgraced myself and others. Seriously. I thought I was immune to it.

The main character, David Lurie, is disgraced. Big deal. He disgraces a student. Yeah, I’m familiar with that. She’ll live. He is a disgrace. Yes, clearly. David Lurie is entering the disgrace of growing old. That’s where Coetzee has me.

I can’t find it in me to despise Lurie. He’s a Lothario and possibly worse (“She does not own herself. Beauty does not own itself.”), but I don’t have to live with him. Then there’s the sharp intelligence with too little empathy or emotion to make it truly sing. The bare objectiveness. He claims to have lost ‘the lyrical’ within himself, but it’s doubtful he ever had it. He’s a pretender. I’m amused by the fact that he, a professor of language, begins the affair that causes his public fall from grace by quoting Shakespeare’s first sonnet. The words apply as much to himself as to anyone. But self-delusion is my own stock-in-trade. I can’t condemn him for that. I don’t love him either. I feel as dispassionate as Lurie himself. The disgrace of the dying though – the ‘without grace’ – that younger generations foist upon them. That they’re made to feel as intruders in life, burdensome. This is where Coetzee hooks me. And he reels me in. Reels me in until I find myself suffocating in a world I want no part of. A world of shame, dishonor, humiliation, degradation. Disgrace. That of a man, a father, a daughter, a woman, an unborn child. Now make those plural. Add the disgraces of South Africa, of humanity, of animals. Yes, animals. I suspected Coetzee would sneak in a little commentary on that. He has a reputation. I did not expect to be so affected by it. I, a confirmed carnivore, did not expect to lie awake at night considering vegetarianism. Coetzee brings that passionate quote at the beginning of this paragraph back to hit me square in the face near the end though and – once again – Disgrace.

So a full five stars, but would I recommend it? I’m still not sure. Read it if you dare. Coetzee is brilliant.

 

 

Note: Star ratings are based on an out of five. That’s five stars possible. Got it? Good.

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4 Comments

  1. pmf1852 said,

    March 19, 2009 at 9:33 am

    You know the dvd comes out this weekend, right? Of course you did.

  2. March 22, 2009 at 9:38 am

    I like this review. Because you highlight that Disgrace is what a truly great novel should be: shocking, disorienting, sleep-depriving, thought-inducing.

    Would I recommend it? Of course — it’s one of the most necessary books I’ve ever read.

  3. Joseph Cavano said,

    April 18, 2009 at 10:46 am

    A thoroughly wonderful, insightful view. As a writer,I appreciate thinking reviewers who know what they’re talking about. Can you believe some people(usually young ladies, i’m sorry to say) often review a book on whether they like a character or not? if you are a prude and your character is not(or vice versa)should have no effect on whether the author has accomplished his purpose.It’s unfair and dishonest to give a medioacre review because a character reminds you of a boyfriend who just dumped you.I actually had it happen to me once.
    I,m certrainly no elitist,but inexperienced readers should take their power seriously and use it wisely.Or,maybe they should read a few reviews from someone like J.

    Incidently, my latest book, Love Songs in Minor Keys, which comes out this tuesday, April 21, has wonderful cover notes from two Ph.D’s). One is from Harvard ,the other Purdue.The former is a past nominee for a Pulitzer in poetry and an oft published novelist:The latter is on this years short list for an Edgar Allan Poe award fro best book of Literary Criticism in the USA. I mention this simply to note ,i’ve been fortunate as to reviews . Still, we all have ego’s( mine is large and growing) and an unfair review by an unqualified person stays with you a lot longer than all the good ones..

    Brava to J.

  4. flakyartist said,

    April 19, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Jonathan, what a great blog you have! Yes, Disgrace is a powerful book. It’s still simmering in my mind, impacting my thoughts.

    And I’m so happy you came by, Joseph! I don’t think I deserve your praise, but I’m glad you liked the review. Writers, like all artists, often rely on the reactions of their audience – the reader – to gauge the worth of their work. Our art is such an intimate part of us and yet, ultimately, it’s not for ourselves. It’s meant to be shared. The skilled artist makes their craft seem easily accomplished and the audience takes it lightly as a result. In a way this is good though. If a reader takes the book so personally as to hate a character then that character must have struck some chord with them. They may not like it, but they believe it. I’ll look forward to Love Songs in Minor Keys. (Lovely title!)

    And finally, pal of mine pmf… WHAT?? There’s a movie??? I live under a rock.


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