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.

(Needs a Title)

 

Lying in bed last night, he turned to ask what I was thinking about. “Vegetarians.”

I’ve been reading too much. I plunged headlong into JM Coetzee’s Disgrace earlier this week, spurred on by a friend’s disgust. This is generally a sure way to get me to do something. Say you hate it, I’ll hate it, the world must hate it – and I will love it to spite you, me, and the world. And that’s just what’s happened. I am sunk deep in this book. Coetzee has kept me up late, staring at the ceiling, considering vegetarianism. Cruelty and compassion. The many different meanings of the word ‘disgrace’.

This is how I drifted off to sleep.

And this is how I awoke, four hours later. I picked up Kirk Curnutt’s short stories thinking to shake off the solemnity. No idea why. I’ve read most of them already; they are not light-hearted. But I like them. In fact, I like each one better than the last. Kirk commented that they were dark and my first instinct was to disagree. They’re certainly not light though. What they are is thought-provoking. Hopefully Kirk won’t mind my reading some of Down in the Flood to you.

 

A dead man’s face tells you all you need to know about his life.              That’s what my dad told me the first time I was around to see the Chattahoochee bust the levee and drown up my hometown…

…I had to remind myself to keep my eyes on the water, not on her face. There was just something so exposed about her, though; I couldn’t help myself. I mean, I couldn’t get over the fact that here was someone I’d twice touched, once in life and once in death, and she’d brought out more in me now than she had then. I couldn’t figure why. Maybe death, even after you’re dead, can still strip you down one more layer of vulnerability…

…Some nights, the ones I can’t sleep, I find myself wondering what expression I’ll be wearing when I go. I even go so far as to practice. Silly as it sounds, I’ll purse my lips together and clamp my eyes shut, real stone like, or I’ll just lie back and try to let the most peaceful, relaxed feeling I know stretch out my skin. I do it, I guess, because I want to believe that whatever I’ve been through in my life can’t be summed up in a sentence or two. I want to think there’s a mystery to me that’s beyond observation, a meaning that can’t be reduced by a glance from a stanger’s eye. Maybe there’s not, I don’t know. But for now I’ll assume that there is, just so I don’t have to deal with knowing somebody’s going to claim to read me as I’ve claimed to have read so many others. My story’s mine, after all, and I’m taking my secrets with me.

 

Much as I’m enjoying Kirk’s stories and much as I’m fascinated by Coetzee’s ability to affect me, I need some fun. I remarked to a friend the other day that this is actually the kind of fun I like. Serious, cerebral. And that’s true. But sometimes just plain FUN fun is better for your soul. To be made light.

Walking alone at night in a foreign city I passed buskers on the sidewalk. The song made me pause and smile. I’d never heard it anywhere but on my own ipod. I swung round and called out “That’s my favorite song! How did you know?” and walked back to drop the last of my coins in a battered guitar case. I was delighted. They were delighted. We laughed and sang and that was about all they could do in English, but it was fun. Back in my hotel room I turned the TV on and was immediately treated to an advertisement for iplayer. The same song! It’s everyone’s favorite – Everywhere! I laughed at myself. Cavorting around the world, adventure after adventure, yet clearly I need to get out of my own head more often.

Tonight I turned the music up loud and watched my daughters dance. The boy shook his head and tried to cover his own enjoyment in watching them. He didn’t last long. I put down my book and made him dance with me.