Disgrace is not my first Coetzee, before that I have read Age of Iron (which I enjoyed tremendously) and Foe (which I didn’t mind). During my last year in the bookshop I did read Disgrace but it was a superficial quick read as I had a lot on my mind so nothing really registered. So as fate has it, I am given another chance.
David Lurie is a sex loving fifty-three year old lecturer who resigns from the Cape Town university due to a fling with a pupil. As a way of escaping (as his hero Lord Byron did) he goes to the country in order to let the scandal boil over. There he settles in with his daughter Lucy and manages to lead a quiet life. Helping her sell produce, taking care of the dogs she keeps when their owners are away and even helping out at the animal hospital.
I know this does sound stereotypical but with Coetzee, the stereotypical never happens. Lurie may be performing acts which are good and character building but in reality he is the same old David – Selfish, stuck in his ways (he cannot accept the fact that Apartheid is over and done with) and with sex on the brain. But just the same he is happy and is filling up a void in his life.
All this halts to an end when Lucy’s farm is burgled and she is violated in the process by three men. From now onwards the novel takes a darker tone as Lurie is now obsessed with avenging his daughter but due to the new South African society this becomes impossible although he does not give up trying. By this point Lurie call all these tragedies part of his state of disgrace.
People do change and Lurie’s conversion happens through three main events. One is how his daughter refuses to leave the farmhouse even though she is not safe. The second is a visit to the parents of the student he slept with and the third is his weekly job of taking dead dogs from the clinic to the incinerator. It is the last action in which Lurie starts to see the symbolism between dog and man and begins to see his own purpose on Earth,
Disgrace is a classic in every sense. An excellent plot, well-rounded characters, Symbolism, well constructed and flowing and moments of reflection. Plus Coetzee’s unpretentious writing style makes the book an addictive page turner. Yes it is a brutally ugly story and it is nasty but it also powerful and Coetzee gets his message through. One could call it a political novel but it also functions as a story on love, eros and Religion.