Thursday, March 4, 2010
Disgrace, by JM Coetzee*
This is a tough book not only to review, but to summarize as well. Truthfully, it's been analyzed, reanalyzed, argued about, etc, and there are places you can go all over the internet to find a good review. One of the best is here, written by Andrew O'Hehir for Salon.com in 1999. I direct you there, because there is no way I could possibly relate it like this man does.
Disgrace is an extremely powerful novel, and as one who constantly kept up with events in South Africa in the 90s, it's very obvious to me that Coetzee's book is a statement about the changes brought about by the end of apartheid, not always for the good, at a time when all of the pent-up anger and frustrations were as much a part of the atmosphere as oxygen. His book is set during this time and reflects a changing social regime where everyone is having to relearn their own understandings of the concepts of identity, place and privilege. He pulls this off so well that you really don't even have to think about it to comprehend where he's going with this book.
When I read Lolita earlier this year, I began to realize that there are writers, and then there are writers. People in the second category make literature a veritable art form. They are capable of displaying their inner genius on the page much like Rembrandt or Vermeer displayed theirs on canvases. These writers are few and far between, but Coetzee definitely belongs with them. This is only the second book of his that I've read (the first was Summertime, read last summer), but I know without a doubt that no matter what book I might pick up that was written by this man, I will not be disappointed.
Disgrace doesn't appeal to everyone, as many reviews show, and in no way, shape or form is it a feel-good, warm-fuzzies sort of novel. This is probably not the book for you if you are a reader who wants a clear-cut narrative where you're entertained without having to think or examine your own feelings as you go through the story. Otherwise, give it a try.
as an afterward, there was a movie made from this book (I think in '08); it's available here in the US at the end of April on DVD. I will definitely be watching this one.