DISGRACE by J.M. Coetzee

I finished the first vacation book last night, though this was hardly what I’d call a beach read: Disgrace, by J.M. Coeztee.  (Coeztee has won a few Booker Prizes, including for Disgrace, along with a Nobel Prize for literature.)

Disgrace is about David Lurie, a middle aged university professor in Cape Town, South Africa, who has an affair with a student and ends up being dismissed from his position.  I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but he leaves Cape Town to take refuge with his daughter in the countryside, who owns a farm where she lives alone and boards dogs.  Soon after he arrives, they are attacked by roving burglars, and the rest of the book deals in large part with how father and daughter deal with, and communicate about, the attack.

I believe there are two main themes of this book: 1) the control (or lack thereof) of animal instinct — sexual, predatory, protection of one’s offspring, and the need for love; and 2) imbalance of power, whether between men and women, student and professor, landowner and tenant, or black and white in modern South Africa.  The book contains several very difficult scenes of violence that occur when these two themes – animal instinct and control – come into conflict. Disgrace is not a light book – it is in fact a deeply disturbing story that explores the darkest sides of humanity.

Of course, the book is also about disgrace, both David’s and others’ throughout the book (I don’t want to reveal too much more).

I must say also that Coetzee is a wonderful writer. His prose is spare but lyrical. There are no unnecessary words – each is chosen deliberately and with the eye of an expert narrator and observer.  Beautifully written book. Not an easy read in terms of the subject, but easy in terms of flowing prose.

OK, time for a beach read. I have read 3 male writers in a row – Goodwin, Tropper and Coetzee – and I am ready for a female author (and hopefully a book in which no one gets beat up!).


  • August 30, 2007 - 11:10 am | Permalink

    Gayle, I’m interested in this book, but curious if the “difficult scenes of violence” you describe involve violence against animals. If so, I will probably pass.

  • Nancy West
    August 30, 2007 - 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I just looked back at your original vacation reading list. My guess is that no one gets beat up in “Blogging for Dummies.” (Unless it’s a far more subversive version of the Dummies series than the one with which I’m familiar.) Have a nice vacation!

  • Gayle
    August 30, 2007 - 10:54 pm | Permalink

    Hi Nancy and Stacy:
    Nancy, I think that’s a safe bet… 🙂 Thanks!!
    Stacy, there is one scene where there is violence against dogs, and putting unwanted dogs to sleep is a recurring theme. You might want to pass this one up…

  • September 6, 2007 - 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Gayle. I will definitely pass. Your review was very helpful. 🙂

  • May 16, 2008 - 1:13 am | Permalink

    Hi! Thank you for the great review! I, too, reviewd this book and put a link to yours at the bottom of my post. Hope you don’t mind!

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