[I’ve finished reading J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, Below is my review posted at Goodreads. Spoiler Alert!]
David Lurie is a South African professor of English who specializes in Romantic literature at a technical university in Cape Town in post-apartheid South Africa.
At the beginning of the story, he is disgraced when he seduces one of his students and does nothing to protect himself from the consequences of his actions. Therefore, he loses everything, beginning with his job because he fails to defend himself, then his reputation followed by his peace of mind, and finally his ability to protect his own daughter.
After the affair with his student, he is brought before a group of his fellow professors for a type of “trial” to discuss what he should do regarding his actions. Laurie merely confesses he is guilty as charged for his actions and does not defend himself in any way; like a dog who has tucked its tail between its legs and whimpered off. Therefore, he is dismissed from his teaching position, after which he takes refuge at his daughter’s farm in the Eastern Cape. For a time, his daughter’s influence and natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonize his discordant life. But shortly after becoming comfortable with rural life, he is forced to come to terms with the aftermath of an attack on the farm in which his daughter is raped by three African men and impregnated. Lurie himself is violently assaulted.
Coetzee’s story is replete with irony and inter-woven and parallel relationships and circumstances. The once Romantic Idealist professor, Lurie, is now faced with a double disgrace: his own and his daughter’s. His own disgrace has wounded him enough to cause him to flee to his daughter’s place, but her disgrace cripples him and his ability to be a father to a daughter who has clearly acted like he is nothing but a burden, especially after she has been raped. Laurie, attempting to put his own life back together—and do the same for a raped daughter—takes a job helping Bev Shaw, the local “vet” in the town, put down unwanted and/or crippled animals (mainly dogs); another ironic parallel to his own existence and inability to now protect his daughter.
Coetzee’s novel contains a chartable amount of inter-woven relationships that deal with various forms of love; romantic love, parental love, and base or natural love (love of nature). These types of love are communicated through Lurie and his daughter (Lucy), Lucy and her neighbor Petrus, Petrus and his two wives, Lurie and Bev, Lurie and Bryon (the classic poet whom Lurie studies), Lucy and Bev, and a love between Lucy and her dogs, as well as Lurie and a particular dog toward the end of the story which he chooses to have put down demonstrating the irony of his own life becoming useless.
This novel is not only a great story, and has three dimensional characters, but is filled with strong imagery, metaphor, irony, and is rich in theme and symbol. I highly recommend it!