Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

‘Disgrace’ by J.M. Coetzee (1999) is one of the finest novels ever written according to multiple critics worldwide and proved to be a milestone for J.M. Coetzee as this novel earned him a Nobel Prize in Literature as well as the first writer to win the prestigious Booker prize a second time for Disgrace after he won in 1983 for ‘Life and Times of Michael K’. It is one of the most influential portrayals and examples of what Postcolonial literature means to be and is meant to be.

The story starts off swiftly with David Lurie- a man twice divorced, middle aged, good looking and perverse Professor of English in South Africa, who seduces a student and begins a morally questionable and consequential affair that will strip him of all dignity, leaving him in all senses, disgraced. Without revealing anything of the main plot, David Lurie resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy’s residence in the countryside, all is peaceful, but he finds difficult to adjust as an outsider without any trace of the life of city- and especially pretty women but one day, they are brutally attacked- an attack which shatters everything.

The novel is a striking allegory which hypnotically elevates this tale of sexuality into a deeply political and historical one, especially postcolonial which depicts subtle and outrageously disturbing facts about the violent past and interrelating the plot line with a haunting depiction of Karma, the colonized and the colonizer, the father and daughter. I can’t possibly do justice to this novel through this review, as one can very well write a 2000-word essay on the bulky themes of this modicum of a novel, 215 pages in total.

The outsider is one of the predominant themes in this novel, which even the Nobel committee cites as one of the important aspects of J.M. Coetzee. Apart from what is widely spoken, the hidden Biblical themes with striking outcomes and disturbing portrayal of wildlife- which occupies a very important part of J.M. Coetzee’s life as he advocates vegetarianism and animal justice.

I feel that ‘Disgrace’ is a well-judged and carefully thought title for a book as the story is indeed disgraceful, the novel is a perfectly wrought epitome of the word.

The prose by J.M. Coetzee has a direct tone often poetic at times, one cannot evade the feeling of what the novelist wishes to convey, which makes it all the more deserving of its accolades. Virtually, the words are scarce, yet they speak volumes, the tone of the novel is subtle but unbearably frightens the reader, I personally wished to stop after a few pages as many other readers also share my feeling, but having said that, the novel haunts and frightens you unimaginably. One can feel, the novel diving into dark corners, where one wishes not to pay attention to, it is brutal without shedding any blood and is a bold task to read.

The usual cliché scenes are written with such verve and perfection, that it becomes hard to accept the complex situations of guilt and repentance, how far one has to go to repent and revive one’s life.

This is one of the best books to have being published, unarguably, but personally I wouldn’t recommend this novel to most people because ‘Disgrace’ creates an atmosphere of such raw tension and pain that only a serious reader can endure the limited words hidden between the thin covers.

All the aspects of colonization are depicted clearly in this novel from subjugation to the loss of identity by the incidents that occur in the lives of the David and Lucy. The flavour of this novel stays long after it is finished and proves to be more than what is typed on the page.

The best aspect of this novel is visible in its disregard for a singular view, rather it goes fully and critiques the multiple dimensions of colonization and post colonialism with a pluralistic view of the history, characters, morality and wildlife, civility and primitivism.

The strongest theme that stands out in every page of the novel, even though characters seem to be devoid of morality, ‘Disgrace’ at its heart is a moral tale in the strongest sense, one that raises it’s voice against male stereotypical view of the female and animal injustice. There is a raw energy in the characters which shows their nature clearly as their humanity is stripped off, It gives you a strong stench that these are animals in the body of humans which is a very interesting subject to debate upon.

Even though, ‘Midnight’s Children’ by Salman Rushdie won the best of bookers,twice, but I agree with The Observer who compiled the best British, Irish or Commonwealth novel since 1980 till 2005 which named ‘Disgrace’ by J.M. Coetzee as the best and ‘Midnight’s Children’ on the third after the decision of 150 literary luminaries, and I agree that ‘Disgrace’ deserved to win the best of the bookers, no matter how painful, A piece of art should be seen as art.

Overall, Disgrace is a pluralistic masterpiece which wholly proves to be, too dark and frightening for many readers and indeed, visceral. Perhaps, the most disturbing novel, I have read till date.

A story of guilt and the struggle of revival. An honest and frightening story of human and historical complications.

‘Whatever doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger’

–  J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace

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