Theo Geyser, a pastor in Stellenbosch, recommended that I read J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace. It tells a story of South Africa, as one critic put it, a story that “brutal tyranny has been replaced by brutal anarchy.” I don’t know how to describe this disturbing novel, a novel that seared images into me the way Flannery O’Connor has done. The central character, David Lurie, seems unredeemable but there are moments — just moments — of hope sprinkled into the last half of the book.
Anyone out there a reader of Coetzee? Of this novel? Any thoughts?
Again, I won’t betray the plot, but the absence of hope that we find in Cry, the Beloved Country, the almost apocalyptic shift in times from Alan Paton’s days to J.M. Coetzee’s, and the fuller, bolder, balder presence of dark crime created for me a sense of powerlessness and a grim acceptance of harsh realities. The violence against his daughter Lucy is unbelievably accepted into fatalism, a stance that for me betrayed any sense of justice and morality.
The themes of powerlessness and overt humiliation animate the plot, but what the story does is probe and probe into human nature. What is it, he seems to be asking, that makes us go on? What is it that creates the story we now experience? What can we do about it? Should we?
The two locations of the story, one in Cape Town at a technical college, and the other at a farm on the Eastern Cape, move (in themes) from traditional hierarchy to multi-dimensional chaos. In the former, he is professor; in the latter, he is father with his grown, independent daughter Lucy. And one who learns to discover himself and begins to learn to love by caring for dying dogs. And the irony Coetzee tosses into our eyes with his magnetic, smooth prose as he describes his ridiculous affair at the college and the violence against his daughter in the Eastern Cape force constant thinking and pondering. When Lurie longs for justice for his daughter, he meets a new world — a world playing by different rules. Again, the fatalism disturbed me and seemingly caricaturizes South Africans.
The themes are dark; the realities of that world are dark. It takes a novel like this to explore it.