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!).