Disgrace by J M Coetzee

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Disgrace by J M Coetzee

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Disgrace won the Booker Prize in 1999 and is probably the best book I have ever read. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099535140

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Professor David Lurie thought that his sexual needs were taken care of by a weekly visit to a prostitute, but when the arrangement came to an end he began an affair with one of his students. She wasn't exactly unwilling, but there was an air of coercion rather than romance about their encounters and it was almost inevitable that the university authorities would become involved. Lurie could have salvaged something of his career but he couldn't bend to the will of those judging him and his job was no more. At a loose end he went to stay with his daughter, Lucy, on her smallholding in the South African bush and for a while it looked as though life on the land might restore some balance to his life, but a savage attack brings all that to an end.

Before I was half a dozen pages into this book I was in awe of the writing. It's spare, sharp and incisive. There isn't a word which doesn't need to be there and there are no clever tricks or literary devices. Coetzee takes few words to flesh his characters and every one comes off the page fully formed. It is, quite simply, some of the best writing I have ever encountered. Don't be fooled by the fact that the book looks slight – this is a big story in compact form.

Any novel about post-apartheid South Africa is going to have political overtones by virtue of the extent of the changes. The white middle-aged male can no longer assume that he will be supreme, that he and his family will be safe. His mistakes, his fallibility will be there for all to see. The black man who worked on the land is no longer subservient, but has to be respected and looked to for protection. His ways may have to be adopted simply to survive. It isn't that he will share the land – it might be that he will take it.

But David Lurie struggles to see that he will have to change to survive – in fact, doesn't see that he should change at all, from the relatively minor accommodation which might have saved him his job to his failure to comprehend quite how his daughter must live if she wishes to continue her life in the Eastern Cape. Understanding does not come easily.

If disgrace is the theme of the book – and it falls not just on those who have committed the wrongs but also on the victims – then there is also the reverse. Redemption comes to David Lurie through physical labour through his work at an animal welfare centre where he's struck by the irony of the care and consideration he gives to the bodies of dead animals. It's a book that's not without hope but it's clear that redemption – for Lurie, for his country – is going to be hard-won.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of this book to the Bookbag.

For more from a giant of South African literature we can recommend The Blue Door by André Brink. If it's superior writing that appeals then my personal favourite is Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje.

Booklists.jpg Disgrace by J M Coetzee is in the Booker Prize Winners.
Booklists.jpg Disgrace by J M Coetzee is in the Top Ten Books About Africa.
Buy Disgrace by J M Coetzee at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Disgrace by J M Coetzee at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Disgrace by J M Coetzee at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Disgrace by J M Coetzee at Amazon.com.


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