Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee could be called different things. Savage, cynical, sober and complex, are some of the terms that could be used to describe this Booker Prize winner. A very divisive book that is guaranteed to make readers on both sides uncomfortable. This was the only book I intentionally picked for my 2020 TBR simply because I ordered Lacuna at the beginning of the year and I felt if I ended up reading it next year, I needed to reacquaint myself with Disgrace which I had read a few years back but could not remember the fine details.
David Lurie seems to have his life sorted. Divorced at 52, work and his sex life seem well arranged and compartmentalized; a teaching job at a Cape Town University and a Thursday weekly visit to a specific prostitute. The compartments come crumbling when his regular sex escort suddenly stops working and he ends up sleeping with a student of his in an uncontrollable rage of lust. The circumstances of the sexual interaction make for very grim but vivid reading. The clear abuse of power and reckless lust makes the book an uncomfortable reading but the writing is exceptional.
Disgrace is a light volume that is an excellent exhibit of sparse and economic use of language. No sentence seems out of place and none is an excessive adornment to the story. Soon after his sexual encounters with his student, David Lurie faces a panel and is subsequently fired. Consumed by his lust and desires, he refuses to confront his failures and runs to the Eastern Cape to be with his daughter Lucy in her farm. Here the shift of power in a newly post-apartheid South Africa lurks around every corner. Lucy is dependent on Petrus, her farmworker, for a sense of security. Even after she is gang-raped by three black men on her farm, she remains beholden to Petrus as the this is the new dispensation and the formerly oppressed are now in charge. From being the violator, David feels violated by his daughter’s violation. In his new environment, he seeks redemption but one wonders how much redemption you can seek without any retribution.
This is an awkward book. One that is hard to like but elegantly and concisely written. I did not find it enjoyable but found its content very provocative and troubling. Now I am eager to explore Lacuna. Hopefully, next year!