Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee

Hi everyone.

 So we’ve been thinking about doing this for a while but what with one thing and another, haven’t got round to it yet. The aim is for the book club to also have a blog element, so that when we read a book we love & want to chat about, we can blog about it! And anyone who also wants to talk about that book can do so in the comments. My aim is not to contain any spoilers in the blog, although there may well be spoilers in the comments. So any details of plot line in the blog will go no further than what is contained in the blurb on the back cover.

The idea is to allow a wider range of discussion, and more often, without requiring everyone to read several books a month! It will be on an ad hoc basis, on when we read books that give us the ‘I MUST TALK ABOUT THIS’ feeling. Please tweet us / comment if you have any suggestions or comments on us doing this!


So, without further ado, I’ve just finished reading ‘Disgrace’ by J.M Coetzee. I’ve read the ‘Life and Times of Mr K’ before (which I’d also recommend) and was tweeting about a review of Coetzee’s new book when several of you recommended ‘Disgrace’.


It’s the story of a Professor of Romantic Literature in South Africa, a story of sexual need and desire, of love, of hate, of family and of race. It’s a story (I think) of how nothing is ever simple, of how we all have motives that we can’t explain to anyone else in ways that make sense. Sex and disgrace are linked throughout the book in very different ways, along with an examination of what it means to be a parent to a grown-up child. It’s also (I think) about how far we can sympathise with a character.


David is dismissed from his job as a professor after an affair with a student; he is disgraced and leaves Cape Town to stay with his daughter, Lucy, on an isolated farm, where they are the victims of a horrific attack.


The first portion of the book deals with the affair, the last portion concerns the aftermath of the attack. The whole book was so difficult, so beautifully and wonderfully disturbing and horrific that I read it in one afternoon. Coetzee writes in such a beautiful way that you are fully drawn in, even as you disagree with the protagonist, even as his actions and thoughts make you feel profoundly uncomfortable. This is not an easy book to read, especially as a woman. I felt especially uncomfortable reading David’s descriptions of the affair, especially as to me it didn’t seem so much of an ‘affair’ and more of a man taking advantage.


The easiest part of the book for me was the rekindling of the father-daughter relationship, with the daughter, Lucy, a grown-up woman living alone and making her own living. The father having to learn to let go of his child, and his struggles in doing so. I don’t have children but I can see how this would be. I often think when I’m talking politics with my parents, telling them things I’ve read which they don’t know, that they must find it so strange that their little girl not only has opinions of her own but is teaching them things!! I loved this: ‘he is aware of her eyes on him as he eats. He must be careful: nothing so distasteful to a child as the workings of a parent’s body”. This really resonated as I often comment on how loudly my mum chews when I go home!


Then there is the ‘savage and disturbing attack’ (quote from the blurb) and the rest of the novel deals with David’s attempt to come to terms with what has happened to him and Lucy, and to deal with the different way Lucy wants to handle it and move on. Lucy’s way made me so utterly sad and so completely angry at the same time. I wanted to shake her, to scream at her, to scream at the other characters. But a refrain that runs through this part of the book is “you don’t understand, you weren’t there”. 


This book is not about race until the second half, when its significance begins to build. For most of the book, characters are not described by their skin colour. It is never specifically mentioned until after the attack and then the differences between blacks and white in Africa as a result of what the black population suffered is thrown into harsh light. I am not sure what Coetzee is trying to say here; I wouldn’t even hazard a guess at his point. I would love it if someone else did.


I am still working out how I feel about this book. I loved it as it has left me conflicted, it has left me thinking and with the need to write about it! But I am still trying to work out what the underlying message is for the reader, what Coetzee is telling us, what it all means. 


I would welcome anyone’s thoughts on it!!!


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