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Book Review

Disgrace by JM Coetzee - Book Review


J.M. Coetzee

Fiction-Net Rating 4 Star Rated Book

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Cover Story

After years teaching romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, has an impulsive affair with a student. The affair sours, Lurie is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy's isolated smallholding.

For a time, his daughter's influence and the natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonise his discordant life but the balance of power in the country is shifting. Lurie and Lucy become victims of a savage and disturbing attack which brings into relief all the faultlines in their relationship.

We Say

I knew that I was in for a hard time with this one. Based on past experience, Booker Prize winning novels can be very difficult to get to grips with and often disappoint. Disgrace was no exception in the former but I can't claim to feel let down by it as a major prize winning book.

The difficulty with Digrace lies in the book's subtlety - the writer uses a very direct style but it is also very gentle. It is slow, as if every movement is savoured as events unfold. "He unlocks the security gate, unlocks the door, ushers the girl in. He switches on lights, takes her bag. There are raindrops on her hair. He stares, frankly ravished."

At times, the tone belies the dramatic or horrific nature of events unfolding before you. When the brutal attack occurs, it is like being shook out of a lyrical trance as you realise that though the writing is beautiful, all else has turned ugly very quickly. It's a shock and a testament to the writing skill of J.M. Coetzee that it works so well.

The relationship between David and his daughter, Lucy is explored in similarly complex ways. Both try to come to terms with their own experience of 'disgrace' and find that they are too different and cannot help each other. It's heartbreaking to see the slowly charted breakdown in communication between the two of them. Coetzee does not make it easy to take sides - there are no comfortable stereotypes to latch onto here.

Disgrace is written with immense skill and devotion - a beautiful but disturbing book.

Review by: Rachel Taylor

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