It was our last meeting before summer break and we´ve analysed J.M Coetzee´s ¨Disgrace¨, published in 1999. The novel that had some controversial parts and not all seemed to enjoy it. I have to say that personally I find it to be difficult to read. Don´t get me wrong: it´s not difficult because of the vocabulary or style, that because of it´s accessibility some of the critics called ´biblical´, but because of the subjects it touches. Rape, racism, political change are just some of the problems that Coetzee brought to light here. It also focuses on vexed, complex and surprising nature of many different relationships: father-daughter, student-teacher, man-woman, black-white, human-animal. Usually it shows these relationship in a specific context: privileged (man, white, teacher, human) - unprivileged.
Already the first sentence sets the tone for the whole novel and presents the main character the way we will see him throughout the whole story: "For a man of his age, 52, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well." Believe me, it´s difficult to like that man. David Lurie is a misogynist unwilling to change and admit that he´s no longer in power. And that is another topic of the novel: an individual vs. great powers beyond his control.
How could we summarize ¨Disgrace¨in one sentence? It tells the story of white academic and his long and self-imposed fall from grace in post-apartheid South Africa. It is about a man who gets old in the most disgraceful way possible, not only not accepting the change, but making the process as humiliating for himself as possible. Many were wondering if the novel in any way was autobiographical, since John Maxwell Coetzee for many years was an academic himself. But no, the novel, although set in a familiar for the author setting, is not autobiographical.
For those of you who are still reading it, I will try nor to reveal to much of the plot. Let me just point out the main subjects we´ve focused on:
1. The transformation of David. What does the final scene mean? Is Lurie like the old dog? Is his life finished and without any perspectives? Can it suggest he´s considering a suicide??
2. Woman´s position in Sout African society (only there??). One rape or two rapes? ¨Civilized¨rape vs. ¨uncivilized¨ one? Lurie´s opinion on women (¨a woman´s beauty does not belong to her alone. It is a part of the bounty she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it.¨).
3. Lucy as a sacrificial goat? Her understanding of what had happened vs. Lurie´s understanding: ¨What happened to me is a purely private matter. (...) It is my business and my alone.¨; ¨I´m the one who has to live here.¨
4. ¨You were not there¨: how can a man understand a rape? The question posed by Lucy doesn´t really refer to her situation only, it poses the reader in front of the much more complicated problem.
5. Growing old, adapting to changes (not only in our personal lives but also social, often dramatic, changes). Political change and the changes in the individual lives it provokes.
6. The beauty of Coetzee´s prose vs, the brutality of events he describes
I hope you enjoyed our June Meeting. We will be back in September. Watch this site and our FB page to get more news about our next readings!
Have a wonderful summer!
Donostia Book Club.