Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

Book Club IconIt’s been a while since I have talked about my book club. For those who might not know, I’ve been running a book club for almost a year and a half. I think we have done 15 books so far. On Monday night we discussed Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee. It may have been our best discussion yet.

The book is a short one, telling the story of a professor from a South African technical college, David Lurie, who falls into disgrace. The story begins with the dissolution of his relationship to a prostitute, then leads into a rather tactless and boorish attempt of his to start an affair with a young student. When the affair is revealed, he deals with the inquiry badly, leading to his dismissal. From here the professor goes to the South African countryside to live with his daughter on what remains of a communal farm.

There are several reasons this book produced such a good discussion I think. First, the general opinion of the book was all over the map with some people absolutely loving the book and other despising it. One woman said that when she finished the last chapter, she threw it across the room in disgust. While another woman said that she was mesmerized by the prose. Several people agreed with her and it seemed that a few people finished the entire book in one night, in one sitting.

Another reason the book produced a good discussion was that nearly all of the characters, besides the professor, were difficult to fathom. The motives, desires and intentions of the student who sleeps with the professor, of his daughter Lucy and of Petrus, Lucy’s nearest neighboring farmer, are all hard to discern. While there are plenty of salient hints as to what they are thinking and why they make their choices, they remain just beyond our understanding. It is clear that Professor Lurie does not understand those people who are close to him, and so these characters also remain partially closed to the reader. This left a lot of room for us to discuss these characters and try to figure out what was going on.

One thing that we all seemed to agree on is that Lurie may be the most unlikeable character in any book we have read. There are other characters in the same book that do more despicable things, but Lurie is unable to recognize that he has done anything wrong and his arrogance in dealing with the college authorities, his daughter and Petrus is particularly unappealing. Still it is different to dislike a character than to dislike a book. This is definitely a book I would recommend for a book club if you are looking for something that will spark an interesting discussion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *