This is my review of Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee.
A friend's fulsome praise for the recently issued film of this book encouraged me to reread it partly because I was so embarrassed at being unable to recall the details of the plot. I now think this was because of the bleakness of the tale, as the main character sinks into a passive acceptance of his waning sexual and academic powers and influence as a result of ageing, and the "reversal of roles" in South Africa as black men gain ascendancy post-Apartheid. This beautifully written book works at several levels, as an examination of both personal morality and commununal responsibility or guilt for the exploitation of one group by another. With his history of preying sexually on young, inexperienced girls, is David Lurie any better than the black rapists who impregnated his daughter, either as a demonstration of new-found power, or through some instinctive desire to spread their seed?
What repelled me about the story was the degree of acceptance of "fate" by both Lurie and his daughter. Still only in his early fifties, he seemed too young to "give up", and even if he had been older, I would have wanted him to "rage against the dying of the light". I accept that the sheer weight of circumstance e.g. the ineffectiveness of the police in solving crimes made it hard to maintain one's resistance. Since Lurie clearly felt no great guilt about casual sex and seducing vulnerable women, it was unclear exactly what the extent of his disgrace was. A part of him seemed to feel that rapists and robbers should not get off scot free just because they might have been treated badly in the past. Yet, at the end, he seemed to compound his downfall, and give up too easily. His embracing of the "lowly task" of disposing of surplus dogs seemed too much of denial of the possibilities of life. The final choice of when a lame dog (which he could have kept as a pet) should be put down may have been an analogy for the state of his own life, but seemed too negative.
What exactly was the point of the scene where Lurie is invited to dine with the father of the student whom he "wronged"? What comparisions does the author wish us to draw between the course of Lurie's life and that of Byron, once a serial seducer but brought low towards the end of his life? There is a great deal to speculate upon, and to discuss in this book.
The plot seems to tail off and meander once Lurie accepts that he can no longer take refuge with his daughter, and drifts back to the city. Perhaps this is a deliberate reflection of the random nature of much of "real life".
Although I could not say I liked this book, I admired it.