Tuesday, May 18, 2010

REVIEW: Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee

Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee. Published 1999 by Penguin. Literary Fiction. Booker Prize Winner.

Winner of the 1999 Man Booker Prize, Disgrace is a stunner of a novel. It's the second Booker Prize winner by South African author J.M. Coetzee (the first was Life and Times of Michael K, a winner in 1983) and almost as soon as I started it I could see why it won. It's one of the those novels that really has it all- a strong plot, great characters, distinctive style and strong setting. The plot? David Lurie, a Cape Town college professor, ruins his life after an ambiguous affair with a student, then goes to live with his daughter Lucy, a homesteader in rural South Africa. There, they endure an unspeakable tragedy. The rest of the novel is fallout from these two life-changing events.

Also omnipresent in the book are the racial and sexual politics of South Africa as the characters wrestle with guilt and the consequences in this landscape of living the lives they want for themselves. If you read Solar and thought Michael Beard was an unappealing character, you're going to hate David Lurie, a stubborn, difficult man bitter about his diminishing prospects with career and women who refuses to see the reality of every situation he's in. At the same time, though, Coetzee makes the reader care about him first by punishing him and then by showing his slow crawl back to humanity via the growing compassion that builds through his work in a veterinary hospital.

Gender, sexuality and race are but a few of the themes running through this dense, economically written novel. Coetzee races through the affair and Lurie's downfall then lingers over Lurie's new life with Lucy and its brutal fallout. His recreation of life on Lucy's farm was so vivid I felt like I was there; Lurie's ostracism from his academic life is equally vivid and moving. Lucy and Lurie are both unforgettable characters, so entrenched in their points of view and so unwilling to see any but their own way out of their predicaments. I read the book in about two days and couldn't put it down once I started. For the reader of literary fiction who can like an unlikeable protagonist, Disgrace is a must-read. I received the book in a Bookmooch trade and it came with a sticky note on the title page that read "Phenomenal piece of literature. You will not be disappointed!" I couldn't agree more.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

12 comments:

Laura said...

Funny you mention Solar. I haven't read it yet, but when I've read blogger reviews I have definitely been reminded of Lurie! Glad you enjoyed this book. I'm not a huge Coetzee fan but found this one pretty interesting, both because of Lurie's downfall and his relationship with Lucy.

Wendy said...

Fantastic review of this book, Marie. I read this one awhile ago, but I still vividly remember it and it garnered 4.5 stars from me. Thanks for reminding me of this book!

Serena said...

I tend to stay away from prize winners because the one's I've chosen to read are just not my cup of tea. However, I really did love The Road, but on the flip side, I really didn't like Let the Great World Spin too much.

Prize winners seem to be a double-edged sword for me.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love your sentence about Michael Beard. I think however that it seals the deal for me on this book!
:--)

writergal said...

I took this out of the library in the past few weeks and intend to read soon.

bermudaonion said...

Wow, that sounds like an amazing book that covers a lot of topics. I love the note you got with yours!

avisannschild said...

I hated this book (and have no desire to ever read Coetzee again as a result). Guess I might not like Solar either!

Zibilee said...

Beautiful review, Marie! I am so anxious to read this one and know that when I do, I am in for a real treat. I have read such good things about it and think that it's one that I need to make time for very soon. Glad to know that it was a spectacular read for you!

Kathleen said...

You convinced me. I'm adding this to my list!

Aarti said...

I've never had any compulsion to read Coetzee before now- perhaps because I didn't know he was South African? But this book sounds so complex! Thanks for the review.

jewwishes said...

Your review is excellent and I totally agree with all you say. The book is incredible.

....Petty Witter said...

Was really worried for a minute, I must have clicked on the wrong link and got your test blog.

I confess to not having read anything by this author, your review has made me think twice about this and will certainly be added to my library list if not to my actual wish list. Thanks for your thoughts.