Sunday, December 22, 2013

70. Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

Based in South Africa, this is one of those rare books with no likeable characters, "not likeable" being a relatively mild term for the host of feelings most of these characters induce. The characters in this book are so disjointed from anything that I could empathise with, sympathise with, or even mildly relate to, that most of the time I spent reading this book was like watching one of those really weird cartoons and not being able to look away.

This book challenges all the moral boundaries, and then some more. There is hardly a thought, a line of argument I could agree with. Be it, "How she reconciles her opinions with her line of business he does not ask." comment in one of the opening pages where the protagonist questions the right of a prostitute to hold an opinion against public beaches, or one of the many he comes up with in the course of the book. A morally bankrupt character, shrouded in a veil of artistic pageantry, faux sophistication; a conjurer of expressions - I am now reasonably sure, we weren't meant to like him. But I couldn't like any of the other characters either - Lucy, Melanie, Bev Shaw, Petrus or any of the other minor characters, with the possible exception of Rosalind and Mr. Isaacs. In more ways than one, this book is more depraved in thoughts, if not deeds, to the very infamous, and brilliant, Lolita. There is no repentance, even as there is some understanding of his deeds, after his stay with his daughter and all the events that transpire.

For a major part of the book, and the belief hasn't disappeared even as I write this review after a good couple of weeks since reading the book, I have thought if the author is screwing with us, trapped in his perverse fantasy world. I believe I would know better once I read some of his other books, which I fully intend to do.

Coetzee's writing is poetical, lyrical, with the odd quality of not making you feel for any character, no matter how tragic their life story, revisit the weird cartoon reference. I can hardly remember being so detached from a book and yet unable to put it down. There is a not so subtle, undercurrent of the social and legal system in the then existing South Africa.

Hate the characters as much as I did, I couldn't hate the book.


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