I got this at regular price back in college. I bought it even if I found the cover unappealing: a stray dog on a barren dirt road. I am not into judging books by their covers, but nice covers sometimes help. It’s hard not to be drawn to a book with a sleek cover design.
Oh yes, this novel is a Booker winner. The author is a Nobel laureate. The author is among the top authors who have the most number of books in that 1001 list. With all these, expectations are raised notches higher.
And yes, Disgrace is agreed to be his best work. How did his best work fit into my reading taste?
Disgrace lives up to its title: it is a disgrace to the author’s supposed reputation. That’s straight enough, I think, but really, I am in no mood to talk about this book because I remember nothing good about it.
Some things first. This is the only novel of Coetzee that I have read. I think it will be the last one as well. No doubt, he writes beautiful sentences. It’s just that I don’t like him. His words fail to captivate my attention.
Actually, Coetzee’s concern for animals is endearing. I think this is one of his major causes. He even integrated this in his novel. You see, it’s not only the book cover that has a dog in it. The other half of it is teeming with dogs.
Which is not to say that I don’t like dogs. Okay, so let’s talk about the novel itself. Disgrace is about this professor who carelessly goes into an affair with a student. The object of the liaison comes from a rather influential family, so our disgraced professor is chucked out from the university.
He then lives with his estranged daughter in a rural backdrop, and the two are disgraced again. How? The unattractive and tomboyish daughter is raped and his father, our protagonist, could not do anything about it.
Then silence. And then the dogs. The father starts looking after the dogs in the dog pound. Or is it a dog clinic? And I don’t recall how it ended. I don’t even care.
You see, I cannot find anything to attach myself with this supposedly grand novel. I think something is wrong. I think I just didn’t get it. So when I checked for the novel’s reception, it’s supposed to portray the modern South Africa. Nice, but I don’t even know what South Africa was before. I have an idea what apartheid is, but really, that is just some strange, distant thing if you are in a country where there is only one color.
I think this book explores the problems of communication between father and daughter. Yes, they found themselves in the most unfortunate situation. But isn’t communicating your thoughts and feelings always a good starting point to come up with a resolution? Yes, the daughter was raped. Yes, the father was helplessly assaulted. Do I smell crushed egos getting in the way? Pride as well?
Why is it so hard to swallow something so tasteless?
Oh, I remember just now that I can still give Coetzee another chance. I have yet to find a copy of his other famous work, Life and Times of Michael K. I hope that one would redeem the author from the slight disappointment that I had with Disgrace.
Or maybe I could just lower my expectations even just a bit? I can’t really help it though, especially in the case of Nobel laureates.
The Nobel Prize for Literature is the ultimate award that a writer can get his hands on. But yes, this prize is also one of the most controversial. The winners are almost always unknown in a worldwide scale. There have been accusations that the prize favors European writers, but what the hey, the Nobel remains as it is: a prestigious award. It adds a sense of importance to the person whom the award is given to, and we could not really do much about it except trust that the people behind the Nobel are doing a brilliant job.