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.