Monday, December 28, 2009


I recently finished reading Disgrace, the book that won J.M. Coetzee his then-unprecedented second Booker Prize (Australian Peter Carey later matched it). I wept when I read the last page. It's been a while since a novel has made me cry.

Disgrace is the story of a man who loses everything: his youth, his reputation, his academic career, and ultimately, much more. His downfall begins with an ill advised affair. He gives in to his passion, and later is unable to criticize it (or censure himself) simply because he is past his prime. After he leaves the University, he goes to live with his beloved daughter, who has a farm in the Eastern Cape. There he suffers a worse abasement. He and his relationship with his daughter are forever changed.

It reminded me of another novel I read earlier this year, Philip Roth's The Human Stain. The main characters are aging academics who suffer public humiliation, to which they respond with indignation. There are official inquiries, and early retirement. Other shared themes include race, sex with younger women, and university politics.

Also common to the two novels is the writers' unflagging honesty.
There is no shirking, for example, from the banal indignity of physical aging. Coetzee and Roth are master craftsmen at the top of their games.

Thanks, Lore.

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