Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

JMCoetzee_DisgraceDisgrace is a novel about South Africa. It is exquisitely well-written.  There isn’t a superfluous or misplaced word in the whole book.  Coetzee is perhaps the most elegant writer I’ve encountered since F. Scott Fitzgerald; his command of English is absolute. The story is very good.  David Lurie, a professor in Cape Town and accomplished womanizer, is dismissed from his job when word leaks of his affair with a student.  The affair is consensual, but the student is very young and at least one of their encounters was “undesired” – it later emerges that she suffers a mental breakdown in the aftermath of their relationship.

Spoilers alert:  David moves to rural south Africa to live with his daughter Lucy on her farm; they are attacked by native Africans and Lucy is raped.  Her rapist turns out to be the close relative of Lucy’s hired man, Petrus.  Aside from the fascinating account of the delicate power-balance between blacks and whites in South Africa, there are also questions of the dynamics of sexual power.  David is devastated by the rape of his daughter, but he was unrepentant about his affair with the student.

It’s not a long novel, but it’s a very powerful one.  It was nice to meet an author who measures his words so carefully, who knows precisely what to say – but also what to leave unsaid.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *