Tuesday, July 1, 2008
DISGRACE by J.M. Coetzee
This is a truly great novel, a highly-intelligent, complex work that constantly surprises the reader. Coetzee's lovely, allusive, Modernist prose (justified by his protagonist's literary profession) binds the work into the European tradition, from Goethe and Wordsworth to Kafka, but as I read I also found myself comparing its 'deep structure' to that of a novel Coetzee never references, The Charterhouse of Parma. Like Stendhal's work, Disgrace begins as one kind of book (a 1990s academic PC scandal narrative a la Oleanna, The Human Stain, one of the storylines in The Corrections, etc.) but then unexpectedly shifts gears to become quite another kind of story (an exploration of power, race and sex in post-Apartheid rural South Africa). This conjoined disjunction sets up a powerful series of ironic echoes as each narrative reflects upon the other. It's a profound, very disturbing and unsettling reading experience, a thoughtful book that (like all great novels) demands re-reading.