Posted by: Ele Quigan | October 1, 2010

‘Disgrace’ J.M.Coetzee

Occasionally finishing a book is a relief. It could have taken ages to get through, it could have been a story that you didn’t really enjoy by you tell yourself to finish it anyway, or it could be, as in this case, this it was such a confrontational shock to the system, that finishing it means you don’t need to think about it as in depth any more… but it’s books like these that haunt me in my sleep.

A male protagonist who is what – a creep? a misogynistic creep? or just white middle-class male? or sad aging man trying to hold on to his rapidly vanishing youth via the sexual tensions abound within the thrill of the chase and unknown? I’m not sure. But I struggled to understand and even empathise with him.

But his view isn’t even the climax of the story.

He’s the father too a white woman, choosing to live a quite life on a farm in South Africa (where he returns to, with wings clipped after a publicised relationship collapse between him, a professor, and one of his students) – until a brutal home invasion.

Brutal. It’s the only word that I can use to describe this book. From the actual invasion, to the aftermath, to the apparent callousness of the male protagonist in the early part of the novel – and I still can’t get it out from under my skin.

Rather than dealing with the current race relations in South Africa by painting it in a fluffy we’re all in this together – it rips it open like a wound for all to see its rawness and horror – a strange mix of understanding and confusion of place – and of guilt and hate of generations past.

I wont lie, this book made me angry. I seethed at the lack of response and acknowledgement within it to just do something – but every page I turned I was left with nothing but bleakness, no hope of a fix, and I guess the understanding that it’s going to take generations to not excuse but accept the wrongdoings of the past, and that apartheid is going to continue to be like a dark, hidden cancer that springs out in anger and hatred not just occasionally but often. Daily. That it will underly everything in a sense.

Maybe I look at South Africa in the wrong way – perhaps we New Zealanders are just as bad for the atrocities that we put our indigenous Maori through.

It’s a book that makes you question your own moral compass – push you to ask yourself why and creates a desire to understand. But I don’t think I could – from my white, female, middle class view – who am I to judge or present an opinion when from neither side of the equation.

I’m glad I read it, and have bought another of his to read more of his style, and to find out more about modern, new, apartheid-less South Africa.



  1. […] Other reviews : Linus’s Blanket ; Boston Bibliophile ; The Parenthesis and the footnote […]

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