Disgrace

May 31, 2007 at 1:48 pm 5 comments

This is a very good book – enjoyable to read, haunting, strange, unsettling, inconclusive but satisfying. This is the third book I have read by J.M. Coetzee and it is definitely my favourite. The other two, Youth and The Master of St Petersburg, seem thin and lopsided in comparison (I was never predisposed to like The Master of St Petersburg, however, as I was a Dostoevsky worshiper when I read it, and it doesn’t paint a very flattering portrait of him). In contrast, the characters of Disgrace are human, flawed, warm, embracing contradictions. The novel, set in post-apartheid South Africa, is perfectly balanced between three voices – the disgraced academic, his stubborn and vulnerable daughter, and the silent hurt of wounded, unwanted animals. A peculiar combination, but the voices weave together and create a curious music of degradation, loss and hope, much like the opera that the academic, David Lurie, tries to write about Byron’s lamenting mistress. Touching on grandeur, but horribly comic. The sense I am left with is that of creeping very close to the edge of everything – a blank white mist of fog, unbearably sad – and looking at it coolly, calmly, and stroking it.

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Entry filed under: J.M. Coetzee.

Not again! The Hours

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John  |  May 31, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    mmmm… good review. I like the way you talk about stroking the edge of everything. Yes, Disgrace is like that. I thought it was a great novel when I wrote my review at Arukiyomi. Not a novel I find many bloggers have read.

    May I also suggest, while I’m here that you enable anonymous comments so that I, and others without blogger, can actually post as their true online identities?

  • 2. Siew  |  May 31, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    Thanks for switching it on so quickly Meli!

    I’m glad you enjoyed Disgrace; it was my introduction to Coetzee, so it was pretty much love at first sight; very bleak, but it is so subtly and beautifully written.

    May I suggest that you consider reading Lives of Animals next? Just before he won the Nobel, he fused Lives of Animals as a chapter, into Elizabeth Costello, and he now seems to have a fixation on Costello as a character ongoing, but Lives of Animals will make your experience of Disgrace all the more poignant.

    It is seldom clear what Coetzee ever thinks of anything, and Lives of Animals comes as close to anything in expressing his humane concern for the plight of animals in the world, and considering he is a vegetarian.

    Other fantastic Coetzee reads would be Waiting for the Barbarians and Life and Times of Michael K. I didn’t really enjoy Foe much, and currently I’m reading Dusklands; once I get through this, Youth and his latest Slow Man, I will have read all his fictional works.

  • 3. Siew  |  May 31, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    I should add also, I do get many comments of outrage from many readers of Disgrace – it is one book that seems to either disgust people (I daresay because they didn’t understad it) or delight. So I’m doubly relieved you enjoyed it!

  • 4. meli  |  June 1, 2007 at 7:07 am

    Thanks John – I’ve enabled comments. And nice to hear your thoughts too Siew. I’ll get on to those other Coetzee books when I get back to England. Coetzee is very very big in the postcolonial studies world, and after reading Disgrace I understand why. And he lives in Adelaide!! Adelaide connections always give me an unfounded sense of pride. Apparently he said it’s heaven on earth.

  • 5. Arukiyomi  |  June 1, 2007 at 7:45 am

    Yay now I can be myself 🙂

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