Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

This is the fourth novel I’ve read by Coetzee and the third that I’ve completed for my 50 Year Project. I read this novel a few years ago and found it disturbing. Since I have the rule that I have to read or reread all of the books on the 1001 list in order to complete the book portion of the challenge I reluctantly checked this book out of the library recently. I’m trying to read more books that I’m not super excited about so the remaining 100 on the list aren’t all stinkers that I’m dreading.

Surprisingly I enjoyed this novel more the second time. Maybe it was due to the fact that I knew what was going to happen and I prepared myself mentally for the upsetting elements of the novel. The novel was published in 1999 and it won the Booker Prize. Four years later, Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. If you haven’t read any of his novels, I do recommend him. Brace yourself though. He writes about difficult subjects. So far his novel Youth was the easiest one to get through. Not once did I feel traumatized. But it was depressing.

Now for the plot of Disgrace. David Lurie is a professor of English at a university in Cape Town. He is twice-divorced and is dissatisfied with his job. David is not a hero by any stretch of the imagination. He seduces one of his female students. The young woman is rather fragile, which makes David’s actions even more despicable. The university finds out about the affair and holds a meeting to discuss it with David. The dishonorable professor is given the opportunity to apologize for his actions. He adamantly refuses to do so leaving the university no option but to dismiss him.

The disgraced David heads to his daughter’s farm in the Eastern Cape. At first the reader may think that his time on the farm will give him time to cope with his decision. However, the story drastically changes when three men assault him and rape his daughter. How will David and his daughter deal with the aftermath of the attack?

Many of the scenes in this novel are difficult to read. At times I found myself closing one eye in anticipation of what was going to happen. Yet, with the second reading I was able to focus more on his writing style and not just on the plot. I found his writing hypnotic at times. Even during painful scenes his words compelled me forward. He uses words sparingly, which in a way protected me from the brutal aspects of the novel. I’m not saying l didn’t get a sense of the violence, but it isn’t so forceful that I had to slam the book shut in disgust. I should note that I didn’t read a lot of this novel at one time. Usually when I read a book, I’m in the midst of other books as well. I would read ten or so pages and then pick up something else. Before I recommend this novel I would like to add that in addition to violence towards women another topic might be difficult for some readers: animal rights and suffering. I won’t go into too much detail about this. Animal suffering has always been a difficult theme for me. However, he handles the subject in a way that really adds to the story and to the development of David’s character. You just have to read it to understand what I mean.

Again, I am hesitant to recommend this novel to everyone. He’s a fantastic writer, there’s no denying that. He has ten novels on my 1001 list. He’s won the Booker Prize twice. As mentioned earlier, he’s been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Yet, I don’t think his novels are for everyone. I have seven more to go for my challenge. Maybe when I complete all of them, I can recommend the less intense novels. As of now, I’m only going to say he’s a brilliant writer that pushes the reader out of his or her comfort zone. You decide if that is something you want to take on.

This photo has nothing to do with the novel. However, when I read, Miles has to find other ways to entertain himself. He's cleaning Moose, or what's left of Moose. Miles is very hard on his toys.

This photo has nothing to do with the novel. However, when I read, Miles has to find other ways to entertain himself. He’s cleaning Moose, or what’s left of Moose. Miles is very hard on his toys. You can see the remnants of Weasel in the background.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American who's recently returned to the US after a seven-year stint in the UK and Ireland. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in New England, or reading. Not necessarily in that order. Her novels have hit Amazon bestseller lists for lesbian fiction and lesbian romance. She cohosts the Lesbians Who Write Podcast (lesbianswhowrite.com) with Clare Lydon. TB also runs I Heart Lesfic (iheartlesfic.com), a place for authors and fans of lesfic to come together to celebrate lesbian fiction.
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33 Responses to Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

  1. biblioglobal says:

    Wow, out of a thousand books covering all of literature, ten of them are by J.M. Coetzee?! Is he really that amazing?

    • TBM says:

      Coetzee and Charles Dickens both have 10 books on the list. That’s the most by any authors. Coetzee is brilliant–just hard to take.

  2. jmgoyder says:

    It sounds harrowing but you have me interested.

  3. scrapydo says:

    He is an intense writer or describer. I tried to read it in English but I could not read it to the end. Afrikaans is better to understand his way of writing!(Read it in Afrikaans)

  4. minqan says:

    I totally agree with you, it’s a very disturbing book and yet greatly written. I’m glad to have read it and yet, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless they ask for it themselves. I think your description is very accurate Good luck with your challenge.

  5. Lucid Gypsy says:

    It doesn’t sound like my kind of read, but very well reviewed.

  6. I read it last year and wrote a related post. In the context of the violence against women, I found it very relevant and a must-read….. It was depressing, but a superb book. Here’s a link to my post

    • TBM says:

      wow, some depressing stats for sure. Yes his book is depressing but he does raise awareness to issues that still plague society today. It’s hard to turn a blind eye and I applaud is efforts.

  7. IsobelandCat says:

    I read this book a few years ago. Like you, I felt it was well written, but it was quite hard going at times because of the content. He is a good writer.

  8. i read this for a book club, and most of our time was -as i recall- spent discussing the main character’s character. or lack of it. it made for fascinating discussion.

    • TBM says:

      David, for the most part, is a frustrating character. By the end I liked him a little more, but not much. I think I understood him a little better.

  9. You are so brave to reread this! Not sure why you have to read books more than once for your project? There are only a few books I could stand to reread and this is not one of them. The fact that Coetzee has 10 books on the list is very impressive, however.

    • TBM says:

      For my challenge I have to read all the books and watch all the movies during the 50 years I’ve set aside. All the books and movies that I read or watched previously have to be tackled again. I don’t have this rule for the countries considering the expense and time.

  10. The Hook says:

    Miles would make a great character!

  11. liz2you says:

    I bought and read Disgrace on the mention of it by a blogger; maybe it was you, first time around. It was disturbing and often, as I have lived most of my life in South Africa, found myself closing one eye and thinking; no! he is not going to go there!! But he does. We are funny people, I have not recommended it yet either. But good writing!

    • TBM says:

      Sometimes I have to laugh at myself for closing an eye when I read, but my instincts kick in. When I watch scary movies I usually have my hands in front of my face and I’m whispering, “What’s going on?”

      • liz2you says:

        So funny, but braver than me. I don’t do scary movies!

      • TBM says:

        I don’t watch a lot of them. The better half loves them. so I’ve compromised, October we watch a ton of them. Then I have 11 months to recover.

  12. Thanks to you I am getting acquainted with a lot of authors and their works, which I might not have otherwise known about.
    I must lay my hands on one of Coetzee’s works.

    • TBM says:

      I’m glad I can help. I hadn’t heard of him until I saw this list. Then when I was in Cape Town, I noticed a lot of booksellers featured his works.

  13. Fergiemoto says:

    Sounds interesting anyway. Thanks for the review.
    I find that pets are usually rough on their toys.

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