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Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

Disgrace (original 1999; edition 2000)

by J.M. Coetzee

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7,415None467 (3.86)508
Authors:J.M. Coetzee
Info:Vintage (2000), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:contemporary fiction

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Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (1999)


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English (148)  Dutch (8)  Spanish (3)  French (2)  German (2)  Italian (2)  Swedish (1)  Norwegian (1)  Catalan (1)  Greek (1)  All languages (169)
Showing 1-5 of 148 (next | show all)
This is all very quixotic, Professor Lurie, but can you afford it?We've started going over the terms of tragedy in one of my classes, working through the definition before setting off on our reading of Othello. One of these delineations uttered by my professor went along the lines of the difference between 'unfortunate accident' and 'tragedy', the death of the main character's lover and said main character's succumbing to a fatal flaw, respectively. I say, if that is indeed the linguistic case, one must put more effort into identifying when a tragedy is not ineptly fueled by too many flippantly composed unfortunate accidents. Women in Refrigerators Syndrome, a particularly rampant example of the old adages of esteemed literature working themselves out in unacceptably lazy fashions.

As much as I love literature, I know better than to look to the pasts calcified in both deed and color for a lifelong methodology. The past is a different country, and this disgraced David Lurie is a dinosaur of the worst sensibilities. Despicable, and yet quiet, riding the degraded rails of an older world in a passable sort of grace so long as his mum's the word, exemplifying one of my main tenets for the freedom of speech: there is no change without communication. Communication isn't moral or immoral. Humanity is, and will not learn the difference between the two if interchange is in any way restricted.

Lurie is restricted. The use of the phrase 'political correctness' in the summary, right there at the forefront of what countless use to determine whether they will read this book or not, says that plainly. If that doesn't prove it, his later actions confirm without a doubt. Hypocrisy, double standard, bigotry. The same old words, the same old story, the only difference being in how Coetzee handles this fallen hero of his, this old geezer who spends people as easily as money, especially women. For there is no sympathy here for any of that, and woe to any fed full on the public bursting of that usual single souled rot who have come here expecting more of the same. If you find yourself in concurrence with this David Lurie, well. You said it, not me.

In that manner, Disgrace fails to be a tragedy. The main character is dislikeable on an instinctive level, enough that his supposed fall from grace appears as obviously very much his fault and his alone. Appears, as it is true by technicality that he is "overcome by a combination of social and psychological circumstances". Appears, as this is my personal reception of this piece, and if you've been reading me long enough you know where my biases lie, and how I feel the need to express them. So, perhaps not so much a failure of a tragedy after all, but one that snips away at the base of ancient definition and shreds the decrepit ways of black and white to pieces. For there is black and white here as well, but in a sense that is constantly straining to escape the usual context, never offering the same meaning twice to both reads and rereads. A favorite facet of mine.

Much as the idea of ending the review with only Lurie having been discussed to any extent annoys me, I don't have much to say in terms of the other characters. Then again, I usually don't have much to say about characters in general, so it is most likely an inevitable side effect of the single standpoint of narration. Be sure, though, that the refrigerated women will have their say.

Also, the tragedy. All that hamminess in the limelight that never extended the fault outside of the characters and into the author. Despite the cloying ease with which the text spools out, it remains clear at every instant that Coetzee is not writing himself out in some pleading exercise of explanation. A breath of fresh air, in a convoluted, reflexive sense of the phrase.

Redemption, you ask? Mm. Depends on your predilection for happy endings, as well the structure of the story itself. If you wish to redeem any of them, you would needs deliver Lurie first and foremost. It's only fitting in the linguistic sense of this tale. Whether 'tis fair or just or correct is another matter entirely. ( )
  Korrick | Feb 26, 2014 |
Written well enough, but what an awful, awful story. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
The father never saw the connection between what he did and what happened to his daughter. This book is set in Africa but felt like it could by anywhere. There was no transportation into another culture or world. ( )
  sschaller | Feb 1, 2014 |


its entirety there is always a measure of wrestling, and therefore impossibly hard to pin down in the order of boxing this novel Disgrace into a neat and manageable package. I am afraid the book insists on speaking for itself. But I shall hazard a guess that many who have not read it yet have not for the same reasons I did. If someone earlier had told me in a review or in conversation that Disgrace would surprise me with a continuous or repeating sucker punch, and consistently knock me out, I may have taken a look before now. But all I knew about the book before was it having something or other to do with an aging twice-divorced professor engaging in an illicit affair with a student more than thirty years his junior, and I have already read all about that stuff enough to last the rest of my lifetime. To discount the book in this manner is not only wrong it is stupid.

The language Coetzee uses in this novel is simple and direct. The story is straight-forward and runs at a smooth and quickened pace though never seeming rushed. What does occur almost spontaneously in the relaxed reading is a series of constant surprises in the plot, plot being something that interests me on occasion but never a necessary requirement to my reading. But I never could get comfortable for very long as it constantly thickened, evolved, or disintegrated. Of course, Coetzee would eventually return responsibly to the text until he had made a complete circle that did nothing on the order of making your head spin but instead cautioned one to engage in even deeper thought.

There was no whining social agenda in the book, nothing pathetically irritating and predictable, but relevant societal issues were always at the forefront. Throughout the novel some form of adultery, lewd sexual behavior, marriage, rape, relationship, abortion, homosexuality, racism, bigotry, intolerance, larceny, parenting, and love was always present but never made the issue or the main reason for the text. In other words, the reader was left to consider everything individually as they occurred and decide on which side to stand on or to ignore, but with haste as the turns came quick and cutting. It wasn't until the very end of the novel that I realized the extent of Coetzee's simple message and the rewarding pleasure I received in discovering it.

I have a tendency to take my time while reading anything, and typically enjoy a stack of six to eight books I read concurrently. However, this novel possessed me to such a degree I finished it quickly as it took precedence over all my other required readings of the day. I could not recommend a novel more to anyone desiring a sophisticated read with a good story that provides the reader with a great deal to think about regarding ones own life and how to proceed in the living of it. ( )
  MSarki | Jan 2, 2014 |
I was surprised and stunned to read a late twentieth century novel about an older man's sexual misadventures, and the crushing of them by a foolish society for the first time, but once I reached the eight gazillionth novel involving this 'plot' it got kind of tired. Thankfully there's something else going on in Disgrace; Lurie isn't so much guilty of having a sex drive as he is of being on the wrong end of history's stick. It's not that he gets what he deserves by being beaten up, set on fire, and having his daughter raped. It's just an it is what it is situation, for which he tries to atone by caring for dogs. If that sounds fatuous, it's much better in the book. His daughter atones in other ways.

Readers may be shocked to learn that poor people are resentful of the rich people who've been bitch-slapping them for a generation; that the rich people don't just lie down and take it; and so on. Who would've thought? Good on JMC for making it clear.

(slight digression on Coetzee's naming his characters. They're all ridiculous, like 19th century novels, but without the satirical intent as far as I can see. 'Costello,' for those who don't know Australian politics, is the beloved/reviled ex-treasurer. In Slow Man, 'Hansen' runs over the old man. Pauline Hansen is the straight out reviled far-right nutbag of our country, like Sarah Palin but far, far less intelligent. Academics get named 'Marx', for instance. Here, a 'disciple' of Wordsworth has called his daughter Lucy; someone thinks Lucy's girlfriend, who abandons Lucy, is called 'Grace.' Honestly? Honestly?)

( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 148 (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.
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)

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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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