Friday, 17 July 2009

Disgrace


I shared earlier in the week the recent arrival of Vintage Bookers that should aid me in my personal Man Booker challenge. So far they are contributing to the challenge nicely as I immediately picked up Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee to read and finished it within two days, whilst also reading other things. I think that the main prize winners have the reputation of being dense and difficult, which is certainly not true of the ones I have read. Disgrace deals with difficult themes but it is an easy -as in straightforward, but not in subject- read; it also thought-provoking and powerful. At its essence it is a meditation on what makes a victim and what makes a perpetrator and also what is the meaning of disgrace. This is a highly intelligent novel with an uncompromising dark subject matter but it is incredibly accessible and not even the intermittent discussion of Lord Bryon is too high-brow.

The synopsis, courtesy of the Man Booker website:

Refusing to apologise after an impulsive affair with a student, David Lurie, a 52 year old professor in Cape Town, seeks refuge on his daughter’s farm where a savage and disturbing attack brings into relief the faults in their relationship. Pitching the moral code of political correctness against the values of Romantic poetry, Disgrace examines dichotomies both in personal relationships and in the unaccountability of one culture towards another.

Although David's affair is the impetus for the novel's events, it is more of a device and a foil to what happens later; it is interesting to compare what happens to Lucy, David's daughter, with what David does to Melanie, his student and "inamorata", and to deliberate on what men do and are capable of doing to women. Race is also a central theme and anti-semitism, or the subtle and clever allusions to the Holocaust, is an implicit one. It is brutal and savage at times, as are the human race, and the extended metaphor and symbolism of dogs that pervades the text is effective. It is bleak, the tension is unbearable at times and the themes are uncomfortable but in a necessary way. As I said, the book is thought-provoking and I am still thinking. If you haven't read it then do.

22 comments:

claire said...

I read this in one sitting, couldn't put it down, as you say, while highly intelligent, it's very accessible and deeply engaging.

farmlanebooks said...

I'm planning to read Disgrace very soon. I'm really looking forward to it. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

JoAnn said...

I read this book in just a couple of days, too - very thought provoking! The only other Coetzee I've read is Elizabeth Costello, which I didn't like nearly as much.

Karen said...

Thanks for your review on this one - I have a copy waiting to pick up at my library so I might have to go and get it today I think!

Paperback Reader said...

Claire, I was thoroughly engaged too. Have you read Life and Times of Michael K?

Jackie, I hope you enjoy it!

JoAnn, I definitely want to read more Coetzee.

Karen, I hope that you love it too!

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I really enjoyed this book.

I've read Diary Of A Bad Year (which was the first Coetzee I read), and was very impressed, because it has essays on various relevant topics, like Jihad, Iraq, Tony Blair etc, while simultaneously there's an underlying story between the guy who is writing these essays, and the girl who is typing them up for him.

I want to read Life and Times of Michael K. I have a copy of Youth lying around, but it's just a really bad print, so I'm going to look for a better edition of that as well.

Nymeth said...

Your review really has me looking forward to reading this. Though I didn't "officially" join the Booker Project, I'd like to get to most if not all the winner over time. And this sounds like an excellent one. Furthermore, someone was urging me to read Foe recently, so I really want to give Coetzee a try!

Paperback Reader said...

anothercookiecrumbles, Diary of a Bad Year sounds incredibly good and I am going to add it to my wish-list!
I look forward to your reports of further Coetzee reading. I am so pleased to have discovered him as a writer.

Ana, thanks :). I have officially joined the Booker project either but reading them as my own personal project of enjoyment and "improvement". I am excited about the prospect of reading more of his work; I think this will be the year of discovering new and wonderful writers (new in the sense that I've never read them before).

Diane said...

I've been wanting to read this book for about 3 years, and still it sits. Your review inspires me to take action soon :) thanks

Paperback Reader said...

Diane, I am glad that my thoughts have inspired you to read it too :). It was one I was meaning to read for some time and now I am so happy that I did. I hope you enjoy it when you do read it.

verity said...

My first faber book has just arrived!

Paperback Reader said...

Ooh what did they send you, Verity?

verity said...

I meant Vintage (doh, was very tired last night!). I now have the new A.A. Milne Red House mystery :)

Paperback Reader said...

Well you had driven through four countries in one day! I hope you enjoy it.

verity said...

I think I had just lost the ability to read temporarily; 1.5 books in 3 days is not very impressive for me!

Paperback Reader said...

It's more impressive than the measly 50 pages I read whilst having a house-guest :s. I have major catch up to do this week.

Samantha said...

Great review. Can you believe I still haven't got to see the movie yet afte finishing the book a little while ago?

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks, Samantha; I was desperate to read it after your review. I wonder how I will find the movie although it hasn't been given full release here, excluding film festivals. Let me know your thoughts once you have seen it!

Steph said...

Wonderful review, Claire. I think you managed to very deftly capture the essence of the novel as well as its power.

Paperback Reader said...

Thank you, Steph. This novel made such a profound impression on me and there's a very good chance it will remain my favourite of the year. I LOVE Coetzee now and I've only read two of his books!

Sarah said...

Wow! Fantastic review! I recently read this book, and you have picked out elements that I didn't notice at all. I love a book which has something different to deliver on each reading.

Paperback Reader said...

Sarah, thank you. I think that Coetzee offers so much and I am really looking forward to reading more of his work (I read Summertime last month). Discovering new things upon rereading or reading others' impressions is half the fun.