Thursday, June 26, 2008

56. "Disgrace" - J.M. Coetzee

Ha-ha-ha... this shall be fun. First, Mr. Coetzee seems to "claim to be considered one of the best novelists alive" (The Sunday Times). Muah-ha-ha. Second, Mr. Coetzee wrote a book about a professor banging a student, which, as one of my own professors said during "Introduction to Prose," is one of the most overrated, autobiographical, boring subjects imaginable, yet is attempted by nearly every M.F.A. graduate student and/or English prof.

And he didn't write it well.

Disgrace is not about a man's fall. It's about a self-indulgent, pseudo-intellectual (autobiographical here? I shan't guess) professor who makes the mistake of keeping his sex and his scores separate. He screws the student, then expects her to make up a test. Rather than apologize or grovel, he walks away from his job.

Based in South Africa, there are plenty of gender and racial equality issues that have the potential for thoughtful analysis. I couldn't find it with my lenses in and a magnifying glass. If anything, I became more annoyed with the creator of characters who are so banal and misguided that I truly wondered where he lived. I have read good literature about the troubles in South Africa. Coetzee overreached and tried to write good literature about human beings, and that's where he failed.

.75 out of 5.0 Aggravations.


Vatore said...

-- In a recent review, the London Sunday Times reported that Disgrace “***confirms*** Coetzee’s claim to be considered one of the best novelists alive.” --

Your reading comprehension seems poor although this type of mistake is inevitable when one attempts to read 150 books a year. The "claim" would of course be his Nobel, two Bookers and a host of others and it is clearly not a literal statement.

'Disgrace' on the surface may be didactic and tiresome, trying to reveal the sociopolitical problems that trouble contemporary South Africa. It may employ over the top themes and images. But I would like to focus the reader's attention to the climax: It's not about the rape, it's not about race relations, it's not about father/daughter partnerships.

It's about the opera.

Coetzee cleverly makes David Lurie's opera, the intense combination of Western words and music, the pinnacle of the book. And in doing so, the book becomes about creative creation that opposes falling into the hackneyed set dichotomies that the novel starts out with. As Lurie even states, he originally thought that he would find himself in Lord Byron or even in Teresa, his muse. But no: he is within the 'plink plunk' of the banjo strings. He is the music that binds them together, the inexpressible.

'Plink plunk': it's the twang, the absurd. Imagine a whole opera composed by the likes of a banjo. Could you see Verdi or Puccini or Wagner even contemplating the use of a banjo in their work? Absolutely not. The banjo is far from being classical. It's an earthy instrument; it's a folk instrument. And it brings Lurie down from his lofty ideals and his extravagant gestures into the common world, into a world where Lurie's dog is the only one who listens and enjoys the music he plays.

That's what I find so fascinating about this work. It's attempting to move into the wordless and inexpressible, which is why the onomatopeia is so effective. And the already efficient style of Coetzee makes this all the more impressive. When everything is reduced to 'plink plunk', we know that we're in a new world, a fascinating one, one that is not disrupted by the exterior hardships faced in South Africa.

Stefania said...

Interesting that you didn't like "Disgrace" at all... I think that when you have high expectations about a book you can easily be disappointed. For me it happened with Rushdie's "Satanic Verses"...

I've just bought "Disgrace" and I plan to read it soon. Usually I try to read some critic after having read a book that's considered so highly, but my opinions tend to be more detached from critical perspectives, like yours. I think you can dislike a book even if you are aware of the value of the author in the literary canon...

Anonymous said...

Coetzee still CLAIMS to be considered on of the best novelists alive. No problem with comprehending that he has an incredible ego.

I had problems with this novel, too, and turned each page hoping it would get better. I understand vatore's commentary about the banjo, but that doesn't show up until near the end. But I hate the opera, too.

Like Stephania, I had the same response to "Satanic Verses."

In defense of Kristin, you should work on comprehension yourself. She isn't reading 150 books this year. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.


Jason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason said...

That deleted post was mine. It was too venom-filled to let stand, since it suggested suicide as a solution to vatore's social deficits.

That said, vatore, you may want to reconsider your assessment of the passage in question.

Your corrected phrase, that "London Sunday Times reported that Disgrace '***confirms*** Coetzee’s claim to be considered one of the best novelists alive,'" doesn't indicate that the Times has made this claim, or that his claim is objectively established. It means that Coetzee himself has made this claim.

Whether that's true or not is beside the point. The passage you cite supports an interpretation you disagree with, and in your disagreement you're wrong.

Grammatically speaking, you haven't a leg to stand on.

If the passage in question had read that "the London Sunday Times reported that Disgrace '***confirms*** Coetzee’s status as one of the best novelists alive,'" you'd be right. There are other phrasings that would support your assertion. Just not the one you supplied.

So you're wrong. And you were a dick about it, too. "Your reading comprehension seems poor?" That's because you don't read well.

Kristin Dodge said...

Wow. Where to begin?

I don't normally respond to comments, positive or negative, unless something resonates. I receive enough negativity through emails that I've grown an elephant's skin.

My dear friends MH and Jason have stated my objections for me, so I won't drag that out.

This is a blog about books, written by an author and voracious reader who also gives opinionated and twisted reviews. My readers understand and/or kindly put up with my sarcasm. People who troll through Google alerts and leave ridiculous bitchery (and interesting ISP addresses - thank you) simply provide another comedic element to this blog.

One question: do you write reviews for yourself on and Amazon, too?

I owe you a drink, MH and Jason. :-)

Anonymous said...

Obviously not a regular reader.

I've read your blog since the beginning but don't comment until now. This twat is a smoking asshole. you didn't attempt to read 150 books in one year, you did it. You didn't claim that the author was one of the best novelist's, the author did.

I'd bet this is a relative of the priggish cunt who wrote this piece of trash (yah, I read it too) or the autor himself based on your response. Just know that while everyone has an asshole, not all of us enjoy being one.

Jason said...

Mmmm . . . drink. My favorite.