Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Athena K's Review - Disgrace

Forgive my back-to-back posting.  I caught up on reading this weekend when I ran up against my library book due dates. Apparently I'm not allowed to renew when other people have placed a hold on the book!

While excellently written, and clearly qualifying for its Booker prize, J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace is not a book I will be revisiting anytime soon.  Certainly worth reading - but only once.

Getting older really sucks.  And it especially sucks for the main character of Disgrace, 52-year old white elitist David Lurie living in Cape Town, South Africa.  An entirely unsympathetic man, Lurie experiences or causes almost every definition of the word Disgrace I can think of.  Beginning with rejection by his regular prostitute, Lurie suffers career termination, inquisition, sexual scandal, physical abuse, imprisonment, the rape of his daughter, home invasion and theft, rejection by family, ridicule and ultimately winds up with a long term position assisting in the euthanasia and disposal of unwanted dogs.  Pretty Heavy Stuff.  And I'm sure that if I had the perspective of approaching old age and a better understanding of post-apartheid race relations in South Africa it would only add to amy understanding of the many ways in which disgrace is possible and experienced in this book.

It is no accident that an overwhelming amount of the disgrace in this novel arises from interracial interactions, with the whites suffering disgrace  at the hands of  non-whites.  There is some poetic justice here, but I don't understand enough of the context to grasp more than that.  South African readers... help?

His disgrace also stems frequently from a narrow view of women and gender relations.  His sexual needs are  placed above the needs and desires of others, and the words he uses to describe the women in his life - including his own daughter - reveal him to be fundamentally misogynistic.  He reasons with Melanie that she "ought" to sleep with him: "
Because a woman's beauty does not belong to her alone.  It is part of the bounty she brings into the world.  She has a duty to share it."

He is unrepentant and unapologetic even after he is adjudicated and dismissed for his actions, which makes him even more distasteful.  The flames of passion he describes led to him being literally lit on fire.  His only repentance seems to come through writing his opera about Byron and his Italian mistress - an opera with no artistry and for which there will never be an audience.  And in the end he has fallen so far that he compares his workwith the dogs to that of a harijan - an Untouchable of the Indian caste society.  And it is very hard to feel pity for him, or to feel that he has not invited this fate. 

1 comment:

  1. this is such a toughie. david is so unlikeable and makes no effort to be anything else. still, what a remarkable book.