Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Coetzee, J.M. (Disgrace)

I am absolutely, positively sure that I do not get all the deep meaning in this Booker Prize winning book from a Nobel laureate. I'm often stymied by the highly lauded material.

It's an odd one, this book. I think Coetzee is trying to unravel the tangled web that is South Africa and its race relations, but I have trouble understanding how the romantic dalliances of the protagonist apply to that. And, as a woman, it's difficult to read scenes of what I consider date rape with no acknowledgment of this from the writer throughout the course of the book. I understand the need to create a character who is complete and, while he does experience personal growth, does not embrace a way of thinking that is alien to him. Nonetheless... it is difficult to read and not shudder thinking about the readers who are young men and might think this is an okay way to live one's life.

But I suppose this is the strength of the novel. It never falls back on cliche. Each character is someone I've never met before in fiction, whether it is Professor Lurie, his daughter, Petrus the "caretaker", even the pet shelter owner. They are beautifully crafted, leading us, with Lurie, into the disgrace of the title. Ultimately, it was difficult for me to see how Lurie could continue on having suffered so much. But... he also performed his own brand of creating suffering in others. Are we meant to understand this as a life balance? As kismet?

I am able to glean some deeper meanings from the novel, but am particularly looking forward to book club this month because I am certain that my compatriots will have alternate and deeper insights. And I'm sure I don't want to have missed them.

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