Saturday, December 09, 2006

J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace, 1999.

I've been meaning to read something by Coetzee since he won the Nobel prize three years ago. Disgrace was mentioned on some CBC show I happened to be listening to, a few weeks back, and so I decided to pick it up as some seasonal reading for procrastination from paper writing.

It's the story of an English prof at the Technical University of Capetown. He is forced to teach writing, but is allowed one course of his own choosing: in his case, Romantic poetry. He has a sudden and impulsive affair with a student from his tutorial, and is unwilling to repent. He joins his daughter on an isolated farm. They are savagely attacked; he is burned, and she is raped. She is unwilling to act as he thinks she should, and their relationship shifts and is changed.

It's a novel about ideas, as much as anything else: Professor Lurie is attempting to write an opera about Byron, out on the farm, and in a way, his thought is consumed by the idea of relationships: with the prostitutes he hires, with his ex-wife, his daughter, with the student with whom he has the liaison, with her parents. It's a novel that wrestles with ideas of repentance, amends, right-living, racism, and the way place informs life. It feels almost opaque: one does not get a clear, omniscient view of Lurie's feelings--actually, I'm not convinced Lurie has any real sense of what he feels at most points--from the narration. That absence left me thinking more about the ideas, and the relatively sparse action.

It is a good book, certainly well worth reading. It's quite short. I daresay I'll end up reading a few more by Coetzee, when I can make time. Silly school.