Author Archives: adarling575

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!!!

The Bloody Chamber: Discussion Post

Hi everyone! Welcome to our second book club. So our book this month was Angela Carter’s book of short stories, the ‘Bloody Chamber’. I was unsure how I would enjoy them at first as I’m not a big short story reader… I still think I prefer entire books but with not much time this month I found it a much easier read! It was great to be able to finish a story on a tube journey, completely lose myself within her fairy tale world.

 

I really enjoyed the collection. There were a few stories I didn’t like so much, and I’ll discuss those below. But in the main, I really enjoyed reading it. Interestingly, Poppy has said she really didn’t … so I can’t wait to find out why!

 

Overall there were a few things that jumped out at me from the collection as a whole. The first thing I noticed was flowers. They are everywhere! Especially lilies, but in the Lady of the House of Love I think its roses. I have no idea what flowers ‘mean’ or symbolise in a novel but I thought the fact that this imagery ran through every novel had to mean something? What do you think?

 The most important thing for me was this idea of animals that runs throughout the novels – of change, from animal to human or the reverse (as in the Tiger’s Bride). I loved the licking bit that began the transformation of the heroine into the Tiger. I think this idea of change is really important in the collection – but what I couldn’t work out was whether it is a positive representation of all of us having the power to change, for good or bad, within us, or whether it is darker, more about everyone having something animalistic, something ‘beast-like’ within them. That we are both man and beast (or woman and beast!) and the spaces between the two are much more transmutable than we may think. I actually really like that idea. I think it’s not just about the idea that men have this capacity, because of the Tiger’s Bride, because of Wolf-Alice, because many of her female characters are also flawed.

 

In case you have only read a few of the stories, here are a few short summaries of my thoughts on the stories that stood out for me, both in a good way and a bad way!

 

The Bloody Chamber:

Having never read Bluebeard I had no idea what this story was based on. I really enjoyed it. I liked the juxtaposition of the girl constantly talking about her innocence and then using the word “cunt”. It really stood out for me, a suggestion that things are more complicated than they seem. It had a slightly Daphne-du-Maurier-esque feel for me, especially with the housekeeper and the mysteriously dead previous wives! Also, (and this shows an embarrassing fact about me), it reminded me slightly of 50 Shades of Grey. You have this supposedly innocent heroine and a ‘dark’ man – but it was the loving descriptions of his wealth and his beautiful house that really reminded me of 50 Shades. Except just hugely better in about every way!

 

The Courtship of Mr Lyon

This too had some lovely descriptions of luxury, I read somewhere that Angela Carter is interesting in writing about ‘the trappings of luxury’ – I wonder if this is the case in her other books?

 

The Tiger’s Bride

 

I loved the ending of this book! The gentle licking turning her into a Tiger was just beautiful. Love and agency.

 

Puss-in-boots

This was my favourite! Puss just reminded me of my cat, although I think my cat is much more of a gentleman 🙂 “tonguing my arsehole with the impeccable hygienic integrity of cats, one leg stuck in the air like a ham bone” made me laugh out loud on the tube which was slightly embarrassing!

 

The Snow Child

This was my least favourite. I just didn’t understand it. The ending was so abrupt and shocking that I just didn’t get it. I just didn’t see the point of the Count penetrating the dead girl unless it is just to shock? And I’d like to think better of Angela Carter!

 

The werewolf

This was the first in a series of stories based around Little Red Riding Hood. I really enjoyed all three of them actually, I liked seeing all the different versions. This one especially as the werewolf is in fact the grandmother was a great twist to it! And the child not as an innocent child but taking advantage so she can have all of her grandmother’s belongings. I’m really interested in the history of persecution of witches anyway so found this really interesting.

 

The company of wolves

I loved the beginning to this story – the different stories about werewolves. I found the ending really difficult though – the girl accepting oppression and allowing the wolf to have power over her, deciding not to be scared as if she wasn’t scared, nothing bad would happen. It made me think of fear, about how I experience fear, and it made me realise that I have become more scared, more aware of my own vulnerability as a woman since I’ve become involved with feminism. Feminism hasn’t made me a strong independent woman (I was that already) – it has made me more aware of my weaknesses. That’s worrying.

 

Wolf-Alice

This story was about the journey towards self-awareness from a child with no concept of self. Self-awareness begins with menstruation, and seeing your reflection in a mirror. I think there’s probably a lot of really intelligent things to be said about this story but I don’t know what all that means. Self-awareness begins with menstruation? Or the journey towards self-awareness does. Is that related to the specifically female? Or is menstruation just an example of the growing up process? Also, the heroine had my name, therefore I liked the story. Sorry, I’m simple like that. 🙂

 

What was your favourite story? Which ones did you hate? What jumped out at you from them? They definitely made me think, which is important, and they made me smile, and the beauty of the writing meant I could see the world she was describing. That is why I really enjoyed the collection.

 

But what did you think?