Saturday, March 21, 2015

Book Review: Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee


Author: J. M. Coetzee
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Date of Publication: October 31. 2000
Pages: 220 (Trade Paperback Edition)

       Disgrace diminishes the disgraced.  J. M. Coetzee hammers this theme home in this brilliant study of a despicable college professor who loses his job after his tawdry affair with one of his students comes to light.  Twice divorced, Professor David Lurie retreats to the South African countryside to stay with his daughter during the aftermath of his fall from grace.  What happens during this sojourn is pure karma.  Does the professor get what he deserves or has the world gone mad?  

     Every word (including the diminutive "Disgrace" on the cover) is pitch perfect.  The author has masterfully created a totally unlikeable main character.  It is impossible, really, to like or feel sorry for David Lurie.  His arrogance is displayed often and early:

 "He continues to teach because it provides him with a livelihood;  also because it teaches him humility, brings it home to him who he is in the world.  The irony does not escape him: that the one who comes to teach learns the keenest of lessons, while those who come to learn learn nothing."

Later, even as he accepts humble jobs cleaning in a veterinary clinic he still manages to irritate the reader through his constant use and abuse of vulnerable women.    As evil befalls both him and those around him you feel he is reaping what he has sown. 

     This is a book about power and the abuse of power.  Professor Lurie abuses the trust placed in him by the University and the parents who send their children for education. The consequences of his actions on some levels seem unfair, in that the collateral damage affects innocents around the shameful academic.

     This book succeeds on many levels.  First, it is an expertly crafted work of literature.  The settings and tone are expertly conveyed.  It also succeeds as an in-depth character study, mainly of Professor Lurie.  The reader is repelled by this man's constant rationalization of his aberrant behaviors but, at the same time, gains tremendous insight into his psyche and lack of moral integrity.  This book was not a "fun" read, but a very thought provoking and intense one.  

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