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Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
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Disgrace (original 1999; edition 2000)

by J.M. Coetzee

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7,598179450 (3.86)527
Member:felicityann86
Title:Disgrace
Authors:J.M. Coetzee
Info:Vintage (2000), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:contemporary fiction

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Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (1999)

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English (153)  Dutch (8)  Spanish (3)  French (2)  German (2)  Italian (2)  Hebrew (2)  Swedish (1)  Norwegian (1)  Catalan (1)  Greek (1)  All languages (176)
Showing 1-5 of 153 (next | show all)
Coetzee can certainly capture an audience with his emotionally charged story-telling skills. And his style is simple, clean, and direct. But reading Coetzee’s depiction of post-apartheid South Africa is like reading Faulkner’s interpretation of the deep south: offensive, depressing, and repulsive. I love Faulkner’s writing. So why do I hate this book? Perhaps because Faulkner knew most of his characters were uneducated, ignorant, and despicable. I’m not sure Coetzee can say the same for his characters. Coetzee seems to imply that even though some of his characters are ugly on the outside, they are all beautiful within. And it’s ok to be repulsive because it is human nature and the best we can do is humble ourselves, accept our lot in life, lower our expectations, and show some kindness. To me, it’s all bunk!

In a nutshell, this is a story of an aging, twice-divorced womanizer who gets fired from his job as a college professor for having a lucid affair with a student. It’s not just an ordinary affair. It borders on rape and involves stalking. And this isn’t the first time for Professor David Lurie. He’s got a long history of one-night stands and visits to prostitutes, and he lets the reader know the prostitutes are used - not because he can’t get sex for free - it just is less trouble for him to avoid the emotional commitment. He thinks he is God’s gift to women... literally. David truly believes the God of love, Eros is his master and acts through him. He fancies himself a romantic and his sexual behavior emulates his literary idol Lord Byron the poet, who was also a womanizer.

So after David loses his job, his income, and his standing in the Cape Town college community, he decides to pay an extended visit to his estranged daughter Lucy - a frumpy, earthy, lesbian hippy who lives alone in the remote countryside on a working farm. He visualizes himself living a fantasy of romanticized exile just like Byron. From the onset, the father and daughter’s personalities clash and tensions rise. David is having a hard time adjusting to primitive country living. For one thing, there are no attractive women to seduce. And worse, Lucy’s closest friend is an ugly hag of a woman - an amateur veterinarian who spends seven full days a week euthanizing dogs. Can there really be that many stray dogs in South Africa?

As the drama begins, Lucy gets raped by a gang of black African men. And worse - it is all a set-up by her black next door neighbor and handy man who is trying to get control of her land.

I will not fill you in on the entire plot, but tell you that this is where Faulkner and Coetzee depart in philosophy. Faulkner’s characters were amoral. They acted by human instinct and were too ignorant to realize they could aspire to a higher standard of living. But Coetzee’s characters know better. They choose to martyr themselves, wallowing in their own disgrace.

The whole plot is loaded with symbolism; the sex, the dogs, the racial violence, and the references to Lord Byron and Victor Hugo. Yes, when David can on longer rely on Byron for his stereotype, he reverts to Victor Hugo.

"Disgrace" was winner of the 1999 Booker Prize, a finalist for the National Book Critics Award, and received many great reviews. But I would rather have not read the book. Like a bad rotting carcass, it left an affected-soul aftertaste, and lingering anger at the “disgrace” in behavior of people who should have known better. I was particularly angered by Lucy and David’s complacent acceptance of savagery as a way of life and their pride in presuming that acceptance of this behavior would bring redemption. Mercy is never superior to justice and lowering ones standards does not assure redemption. I don’t care what Coetzee says!

I was tempted to rate this book 1 Star - because I abhor the allegory Coetzee presents in "Disgrace", but why shoot the messenger. I do believe Coetzee was trying to convey an accurate depiction of post-apartheid Africa’s cultural limitations, warped moral values, and the grotesque outcome of the struggle to implement the policies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. ( )
  LadyLo | Sep 6, 2014 |
Thriller
  deHaas | Aug 11, 2014 |
Disgrace is an outstanding novel: morally challenging, psychologically complex, with a distinctive narrative voice which exerts a subterranean effect over the whole story. Like many other readers, I responded most to the novel's portrayal of animals, which is exceptionally perceptive, but the portrayals of race, gender, power, and South Africa are equally powerful. So much has already been said about this book that I'm unsure what else to add, but suffice it to say that I am in full agreement with those many others who view Disgrace as a modern classic and one of the greatest and most important books to be published in the past twenty years. ( )
1 vote williecostello | Aug 3, 2014 |
I was doing okay and then it just got so grim and violent and I couldn't take it any more. A different Coetzee novel will have to be my introduction to him.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
When I was in grad school for my first M.A., not a week went by during which someone didn't come up to me after class and say, "I just read this book by J.M. Coetzee and there's some animal stuff in it you might want to check out..." (since I "do" species discourse). But I think that even if you're not particularly fond of deconstructing social constructions of animals in contemporary culture, Disgrace is a fine, fine read. ( )
  Seven.Stories.Press | Jun 13, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 153 (next | show all)
The book is written with Coetzee's accustomed steely restraint, and is, like all his work, a masterpiece of understatement. However, there is here what seems a new note of authorial irritation, not only, as might be expected, with the perennial intractability of language and the constraints of the novel form, but with the social changes that are occurring in his country, and in the world at large.
added by rsterling | editNew York Review of Books, John Banville (pay site) (Jan 20, 2000)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
J.M. Coetzeeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Preis, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vosková, MonikaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well.
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Follow your temperament.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0143115286, Paperback)

David Lurie is hardly the hero of his own life, or anyone else's. At 52, the protagonist of Disgrace is at the end of his professional and romantic game, and seems to be deliberately courting disaster. Long a professor of modern languages at Cape Town University College, he has recently been relegated to adjunct professor of communications at the same institution, now pointedly renamed Cape Technical University:
Although he devotes hours of each day to his new discipline, he finds its first premise, as enunciated in the Communications 101 handbook, preposterous: "Human society has created language in order that we may communicate our thoughts, feelings and intentions to each other." His own opinion, which he does not air, is that the origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul.
Twice married and twice divorced, his magnetic looks on the wane, David rather cruelly seduces one of his students, and his conduct unbecoming is soon uncovered. In his eighth novel, J.M. Coetzee might have been content to write a searching academic satire. But in Disgrace he is intent on much more, and his art is as uncompromising as his main character, though infinitely more complex. Refusing to play the public-repentance game, David gets himself fired--a final gesture of contempt. Now, he thinks, he will write something on Byron's last years. Not empty, unread criticism, "prose measured by the yard," but a libretto. To do so, he heads for the Eastern Cape and his daughter's farm. In her mid-20s, Lucy has turned her back on city sophistications: with five hectares, she makes her living by growing flowers and produce and boarding dogs. "Nothing," David thinks, "could be more simple." But nothing, in fact, is more complicated--or, in the new South Africa, more dangerous. Far from being the refuge he has sought, little is safe in Salem. Just as David has settled into his temporary role as farmworker and unenthusiastic animal-shelter volunteer, he and Lucy are attacked by three black men. Unable to protect his daughter, David's disgrace is complete. Hers, however, is far worse.

There is much more to be explored in Coetzee's painful novel, and few consolations. It would be easy to pick up on his title and view Disgrace as a complicated working-out of personal and political shame and responsibility. But the author is concerned with his country's history, brutalities, and betrayals. Coetzee is also intent on what measure of soul and rights we allow animals. After the attack, David takes his role at the shelter more seriously, at last achieving an unlikely home and some measure of love. In Coetzee's recent Princeton lectures, The Lives of Animals, an aging novelist tells her audience that the question that occupies all lab and zoo creatures is, "Where is home, and how do I get there?" David, though still all-powerful compared to those he helps dispose of, is equally trapped, equally lost.

Disgrace is almost willfully plain. Yet it possesses its own lean, heartbreaking lyricism, most of all in its descriptions of unwanted animals. At the start of the novel, David tells his student that poetry either speaks instantly to the reader--"a flash of revelation and a flash of response"--or not at all. Coetzee's book speaks differently, its layers and sadnesses endlessly unfolding. --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:33:04 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

At fifty-two Professor David Lurie is divorced, filled with desire but lacking in passion. An affair with one of his students leaves him jobless and friendless. Except for his daughter, Lucy, who works her smallholding with her neighbor, Petrus, an African farmer now on the way to a modest prosperity. David's attempts to relate to Lucy, and to a society with new racial complexities, are disrupted by an afternoon of violence that changes him and his daughter in ways he could never have foreseen. In this wry, visceral, yet strangely tender novel, Coetzee once again tells "truths [that] cut to the bone." (The New York Times Book Review)… (more)

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