Sunday, December 07, 2008

Disgrace | J.M. Coetzee

J.M. Coetzee's novel "Disgrace" was awarded the Booker Prize in 1999. Having enjoyed some previous Booker winners (ie: Life of Pi), I decided to give it a shot this weekend.

The novel is about David Lurie, a middle aged professor, who falls under the spell of one of his female students. He has an affair with her and inevitably, things turn sour and he is brought into a hearing to plead his case to the university. He refuses to admit sympathy or remorse for his actions, but he is quite willing to concede that he is guilty.

Now jobless, he decides to visit his daughter, Lucy, in a rural area of South Africa. He only somewhat understands the choices she has made in becoming a 'peasant', working for a living by boarding dogs and selling produce, but finds joy in the quiet life... until their world is turned upside down.

This novel explores the black verses white conflict in South Africa, in addition to challenging the boundaries and definitions of relationships. The themes are tough ones, which not everyone will enjoy. But sometimes literature can explore tough themes, and still amaze us. Somehow there can still be beauty contained in the meaning and in the lives of the characters. However, Coetzee falls so short of this mark that I cannot see why anyone would recommend this book, let alone how a novel such as this could win the Booker Prize.

There is a confusing parallel of an opera, being written by Lurie about Byron and his lover Teresa. It fails to offer anything to the story; the half-hearted attempt at literature by Lurie is echoed by the half-hearted attempt by Coetzee.

I found myself lacking any interest in the characters, and the African landscape was not shown as beautiful or hideous... it was simply not shown. If I wasn't continually reminded the story took place in Africa, I wouldn't have noticed a difference. The prose was poor and the plot simply had trouble developing. After Lurie was relieved of his teaching duties, I had no interest in the rest of the novel. I read it in two days, simply because I did not want to devote any more time to it.

I would like to point out that there were a few interesting parts within the story, which I should have written down. It would have been nice had some of these insights been explored further, or used as central themes instead of the simplistic male impulses and challenging of social boundaries.

The only interesting twist was on the subject of 'disgrace' itself. Initially, you were meant to believe that the book would be about the disgrace of David Lurie. However, as the novel developed you could see that David's daughter Lucy, was just as disgraced despite being a victim rather than a perpetrator.

All in all, I would give this book 1 star... and overall, I am saddened that such a novel would be considered amongst the best of modern literature.

2 comments:

Becky (Page Turners) said...

I definitely didn't dislike it as much as you obviously did but you have made wonder something? Maybe, rather than actually liking this book, subconsciously I feel like I should really like this book because of all the accolades it has received and that is why I feel so ambivalent towards it.

I admire Coetzee for the messages he is trying to convey. I also admit that I actually enjoyed the simple prose – I thought that it was good choice for a story with complex messages like this one.

But somehow he just didn't….. get there did he?

Eclectic Indulgence said...

With such simple prose, you really have to know what you're doing. Hemingway was the master of this, and he used a lot of dialogue to help him convey his message... and his works just have a different 'feel' for them, which I think shows a lot about the inner workings of an author.

I just don't think Coetzee has this, at least based on this work.