Friday, 3 June 2016

Disgrace by J M Coetzee

Disgrace by J M Coetzee
First published in 1999 by Martin Secker and Warburg. Winner of the 1999 Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Dogs

Where to buy this book:

I registered a copy of this book at Bookcrossing

How I got this book:
Purchased from Totnes Community Bookshop

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'After years teaching Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, has an impulsive affair with a student. The affair sours; he is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy's isolated smallholding. For a time, his daughter's influence and the natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonise his discordant life. But the balance of power in the country is shifting. He and Lucy become victims of a savage and disturbing attack which brings into relief all the faultlines in their relationship.'

I was surprised by how much I ended up caring about David Lurie by the end of Disgrace because he is a very unlikable man. Used to taking for granted his 'natural superiority' simply for having been born white and male, as South Africa changes around him, he finds himself increasingly left behind and ridiculed. We first meet Lurie at his weekly visit to a prostitute who he later tracks down away from her work and is amazed that she doesn't want to see him privately. The University's request that he publicly acknowledge his abuse of power seems to baffle him and I loved the meeting scene where he repeatedly dismisses their demands, giving the impression that any criticism of his behaviour, especially from the women on the committee, is beneath his contempt. I know men who think and react just like this! And once away to Lucy's farm, David's realisation that she doesn't need him around certainly brings him up short.

We see all the characters through the filter of David's eyes and it is interesting how they change as the novel progresses. Women, who are purely seen in terms of their physical appearance at the beginning, slowly morph into full people and I was fascinated by David's evolving fear of the black man who initially works for Lucy. When we first meet him, Pollux is simply staff and to be watched simply for his skin colour. By the end, David still mistrusts Pollux, but now for his business acumen and real power within the community.

Coetzee does bring a lot of issues into a relatively short novel and I did sometimes feel hectored as his characters repeatedly hammer home points Coetzee wants to make. While the prose is beautifully stark and wonderful to read, the arguments aren't always presented subtly enough to flow with the story. However I can see why Disgrace has won such high accolades and would certainly agree that it is an insightful glimpse into South Africa at a time of great change.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by J M Coetzee / Prize winners / Books from South Africa


  1. J. M. Coetzee still is a blank in my long list of Nobel reads although I wrote his short portrait on my blog a long while ago. This book definitely sounds like one that I'd like to read. We'll see, if I'll get to it any time soon. Thanks for your review!

    LaGraziana @ Edith's Miscellany

    1. I hadn't read any of his work before, but certainly hope to do so again.