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Friday, January 12, 2018

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

J.M. Coetzee is a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, and this novel received the Man Booker Prize for Fiction.  Perhaps these awards encouraged a lofty anticipation of greatness in me, but I just didn't like this novel.

The English teacher in me recognizes the presented dichotomy between the main character's attitude regarding sexuality and dominance over women as a South African white male versus his attitude about the sexuality and dominance of South African black males.  I also recognize how the title speaks to the disgrace of a man unwilling to take responsibility for his actions while also condemning the same actions in others, and the novel effectively asks the question of which of these is worse.  However, the reader in me found the writing self-indulgent, the musings of the main character imperious, the conflict unaffecting, and the women underutilized, flat even.

And while much of the story left something to be desired, the writing itself had beautiful moments.  For example, when discussing why he has failed in love so often, the main character replies, "I lack the lyrical.  I manage love too well.  Even when I burn I don't sing...".  Beautiful.

That being said, I can't help but wonder if meaning was lost in translation, or if I missed the cultural commentary as I have only a surface knowledge of South African society and politics.  Coetzee often writes to portray the involvement of the 'outsider' in the greater issues of the world around him, but in this case, the reader is presented with the hypocrisy rather than effected by it.


220 pages

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