My readers know me as one who only reads well-written fiction from well-respected authors. This past year I decided to trudge through the entire list of Nobel Prize for Literature winners. A couple months ago, I found J. M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace” at a Goodwill and added him to my short list.
Many times throughout the novel I hated the main character. At times I thought it was intentional. With White Guilt a quiet (or not so quiet) condition in South Africa, I thought, maybe that was the intent. Then other times, I found myself feeling for him. But if I was supposed to feel sympathy for David because of his genetics, I didn’t get a big sense of sympathy for many of the black characters.
Petrus came in and out of favor, much the same way David did. But the other black main characters did not score such favor. Not the least of which was the young man of the trio that attacked David and Lucy.
I can’t help thinking this was done on purpose to make one understand that the state, or the culture of the past and present had turned the young man into a monster. If so, I think he failed in making that point clear.
What Coetzee did succeed in doing, too subtly as well, was that it appears nobody free of blame. That the culture has turned everyone, or at least all the males, into exploitative beasts. The only ones who seem to keep their hands relatively clean are the women. I can’t believe Melanie was actually vindictive, or that Lucy instigated crimes against her.
Perhaps, as Coetzee seems to want to make us think about, humans are not, and cannot be decent creatures easily. No (male) person is devoid of guilt in his story. Serious and continuing guilt.
In conclusion, I will add this: Coetzee’s Disgrace was by far the easiest read of any Nobel Prize for Literature winner in my trek so far! There is not obtuse language or flowery sentence structure or even overtly third-person omniscient POV that pokes at you to tell you want you should think or what the story is really about (I don’t mind this method, but apparently most do).