14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Bleak, nihilistic but powerfully and superbly written.,
By A Customer
This review is from: Disgrace (Hardcover)
Disgrace' deals brilliantly with the distance between people - between men and women, between the white settler and the black history of Africa, between the intellectual and the petit bourgeois, between the 'thinker' and the feeler, between father and daughter.
David, the principal character, is an empty, desiccated, husk of a man. It would be easy to call him bitter, but it's hard to see what could have caused such bitterness, other than perhaps a thousand small disappointments amidst the waste of his life in this unwelcoming country. His primary emotions - those which drive him, which he controls - are calculating, callous, unfeeling. He regards Melanie (the student and cause of his downfall) less as a conquest than a trinket... he toys with the idea of making her more than this but is ultimately careless, in the literal sense of the word. Careless and uncaring in his attitudes, he is surprised by the anger which his actions stir up in others - her lover, her family, his colleagues. Even here, confronted by the collapse of the structure of his life - his job, his home, his colleagues - his reaction is lethargic, langorous. You wonder what could stir this man to a passionate response. A visit to his daughter Lucy in the veldt throws him into a different world, of barren heat and dust, hardship, dogs, and a simmering antipathy between the white settlers of the land and the black natives who are gradually reasserting themselves. It also brings an experience which even he cannot shrug off - the brutal robbery and violation of his daughter, and an assault on himself by fire which he leaves him stunned, and in some ways ridiculous, his hair burned away, his head half shrouded by bandages. The experience ages him too...
Themes of heat, dust, fire and dryness persist through this novel. There are echoes of older writers in the descriptions of the wasted landscapes - like Eliot's Gerontion, he is suddenly an old man in a dry month, in a country which, in an ironic counterpoint to Yeats, is 'no country for old men'.
None of the themes or narrative lines in the book is brought to completion. There is no resolution, no satisfaction, for the protagonists or the reader. That David is a Professor of Communications is an obvious irony - every line of communication (or reconciliation later in the novel) evaporates in the heat or disappears into the dust - with Melanie's family, with Bev, with his ex-wife, with Melanie herself. The men in the book behave like jackals throughout, preying on women... the men who rape David's daughter differ only in degree from David himself. Lucy's feeling that in some sense her assailants have a right to avail themselves of her is echoed by David's assumption of droit de seigneur over his students. Small, passing cruelties between men and women recur through the book...
This is a bleak and nihilistic book, which leaves the impression that there is little hope for relations between peoples in Africa... and little enough for relations between peoples elsewhere. At the end of the book, as David, reduced to nothing, begins to develop his opera - Byron in Italy - the possibility of redemption through passion, love and longing arises. Eventually, though, even this is reduced to a terrible howl of pain and loneliness, echoed by the confined and doomed dogs at the clinic, howling at the moon from their dusty kennels, accompanied by the thin, mechanical clank of David's banjo. The final scene, as David condemns his last dog to death, is like the flickering of a flame being snuffed out, and almost unbearably sad - the last gesture of love and affection which the dog has shown him destroyed with the animal.
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Initial post: 3 Dec 2010 13:03:21 GMT
F. O'Meara says:
I enjoyed your review but i do not agree with your fixed interpretations of David. I think what makes David so fascinating for me is that he resists definition. I am still wondering about who he is. You say he is incapable of a passionate response, yet he strikes Pollux, Lucy's rapist with unabated rage. He passionately exhorts Lucy to leave. When he talks to lucy of a neighbouring dog who was punished for chasing bitches he says it might be better for it to have been shot than to deny its own nature. He writes an opera about Byron's passionate affair with a younger woman. I think David is possibly full of passion and desire and fire (which i agree is a recurring image in the book) and maybe even love which is what saves him from being unreadable. He feels genuine affection for the dogs to the point that he will put them n the incinerator himself and towards the end admits that he was "enriched" by all the women in his life, even the failures. He repeatedly states throughout the novel he is too old to change yet he has changed. Cotzee has created a character that is full of contradictions and impossible to pin down. The subject matter of this book may be depressing but the uplift is in the genius of the writing that can create a character as real and intriguing as David Lurie.
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