When my English teacher gave me the assignment to read a book over the Christmas holidays I didn’t mind the idea of doing it at all, except for the fact that I had no idea which book I had to choose, I had heard so many great stories about Coetzee’s books that when I saw the title ‘Disgrace’ written on an interesting cover I had no doubt I was going to read this book.
When the book starts, at the first page already, I find that, in a way, you can feel the tension that is hidden behind the words and you can sense the foreboding atmosphere. However, I did not have the feeling that it was going to be a sad book when I started reading and I still don’t think the book is written in a sad way. I just think that the incidents that happen to Professor Laurie are so coincidental but at the same time probably inevitable, and that’s what makes the book so sad.
I think that in his book Disgrace, Coetzee shows a lot of things quite well without these things to really be in your face. Just by describing some events, that could happen anyhow, anywhere and at any time, he makes me understand the situation after the apartheid-policy in South-Africa a little better.The reason for this is that these events don’t occur anyhow and anywhere, they occur in South Africa, in Cape town and they occur just after that the black people aren’t being suppressed anymore. Right this moment when I’m writing about it, I still can’t get my head around how much things Coetzee let’s me see in such a subtle way. When Melanie files a complaint against professor Lurie and she claims that he has sexually harassed her, it shows how vulnerable teachers are in this position, the professor can’t do a lot of things to make people believe he didn’t do anything against Melanie’s will. The only thing he can do is apologize and hope that when he does that he won’t get fired.
It shows how easy it is to abuse sexual harassment regulations, I looked it up and you won’t believe how much is out there about this form of abuse. The story of Thomas Thibeault stroke me the most. This man has been accused of sexual harassment and has been fired because of these accusations because he saw there were mistakes in an harassment policy, not because he harassed a girl. I can’t imagine feeling the way you feel when people put you in a position in which you can’t do anything to prove your innocence and yet you truly haven’t done the things they accuse you of.
Another thing this book portrays very well is how hard it is for some people to become old. In this case, professor Lurie starts an affair with a much younger girl, but everywhere around you, you can see men in their fifty’s suddenly buying the newest computers, phones and gadgets who seem to be fun to play with. (I even know one of this kind, my father.) Other men buy ridiculously expensive cars or start dying their hair. I don’t know what men do to get over the fact that they aren’t the young god’s that they were anymore but I do know most men have to do something. It even has a name: Mid life crisis. Books and even musicals have been written and movies have been made about this subject that Coetzee uses to show the weakness of a man. Okay, maybe I’m over exaggerating, I have no idea if Lurie is in a mid life crisis when he does this reckless thing but I do know that Lurie is having difficulties with becoming older and I think that maybe by having this affair and having sex with a young girl he thinks he will feel a little younger too.
Alright, maybe this is all getting too much but I just want to write about one more thing that Coetzee has shown so well. I find that Coetzee has succeeded in portraying the differences between people, when I was reading about Lucy, Lurie’s daughter, about how she wants to keep the baby of her rapist, and how she feels that it’s okay what these men did to her because her ancestors did terrible things to them, I realized how special it is that everyone has their own idea’s and everyone thinks so differently about everything. Even though Lucy’s relationship with her father isn’t what it should be because of the difference they have because Lurie thinks they should stand up for themselves, and that Lucy should not reconcile oneself to the fact that someone is taking advantage of her, I think it’s amazing that everyone is so different, and in this case I find it amazing and sad.
“Disgrace is the best novel Coetzee has written.’’
– Elizabeth Lowry, London Review of Books
And I couldn’t agree more.