Disgrace (Penguin Essential Editions)
By J.M. Coetzee
Book Reporter: Complaint Department
Disgrace reads easily, the prose being straight forward and easy to digest. Yet, the meaning behind the words Coetzee chooses, the way he strings together his ideas and his intentions, is complex and powerful. Disgrace centers around an aging professor who's most recent affair with a very young student has left him without his career, his few friends and his home. He retreats to his daughter's farm where he attempts to re-connect with her, hoping to, maybe, salvage the only thing he has left in his life.
The professor is snobbish, hopelessly stuck in a severe mid-life crisis, and stubbornly insistent on living life the way he wants to, by his own set of rules, no matter how ill-advised his friends and family may feel that choice is. His life is joyless, bereft of any passion and one gets the impression that this is a sullen man who never smiles, never laughs. He is, to put it mildly, very unlikeable.
When he and his daughter are brutally attacked by several men, the consequences that follow and the choices that are made are both frustrating and, sadly, unavoidable in the post-Apartheid South Africa where the story is set. There are several themes that thread themselves through the novel: one's place in the world, the relationships between humanity and the animal world, the political environment the characters live in, and (obviously) disgrace, shame and salvation (or the lack of it). It forces one to reexamine what it means to be alive, what it means to be human.
Bottom Line: Disgrace is both an easy read and a difficult one. It's tone is dark and it's message deep and yet, disarmingly simple. The characters make choices that are maddening: I often found myself wishing that they would fight back more, stand up for themselves. But this is the triumph of the book, no easy way out, no choice but to move forward and accept defeat. Coetzee is universally regarded as one of the world's most powerful writers and with Disgrace it's easy to see why.
Recommendation: STRONG READ