Friday, December 21, 2012

Disgrace - J M Coetzee

I had to stop reading A Song of Ice and Fire for a second so I could cannonball this before book club, and three pages in I'm all, Nope, not enough dragons. And our book club reads have been unintentionally rapey (including that One Book In Particular where you spend half the book being like, Please do not rape that little girl, and then just when you think she's going to make it he goes ahead and rapes that little girl), so this book was pronounced 'not as rapey as some,' which (as Lord Peter Wimsey once said) is praising with faint damns.

ANYway, the main character had some icky opinions about women that sort of weren't redeemed in the end. But I think Coetzee thought he was trying? Like, the main character writes this opera about Theresa, Byron's lover, only it's not the mad and tempestuous love affair, but Theresa's sad, sad life after Byron is dead and all she has are his love letters, and I think he's supposed to be sympathizing with her in her middle dumpy age but it really just reads as Woman Without Man Is Sad.

And this won the BOOKER, which is starting to mean nothing and less to me, and the back is covered with LAUDS, but I am reading the lauds and they are all like, THIS IS THE MOST ORIGINAL BOOK EVER, signed, A Dude, and NOTHING THIS PASSIONATE AND RAW HAS BEEN SEEN BEFORE, signed, Some Other Dude, and I am like HOW DO THE WOMEN FEEL ABOUT THIS ONE?

We feel like, Nope.

Also, a bunch of dogs are killed. Like, a BUNCH.

Are you still reading this review? I said dogs were killed. Ok then. David is a professor in South Africa, twice-divorced, and one day he is like, Hullo, student of mine. *leer* So he sleeps with a student and she isn't really into it but she doesn't shout no, so it's not like legitimate rape or whatever (and later, she comes to crash at his house because she is having Personal Problems and he is like, Wait, I didn't want this, this is inconvenient for me. Let's go back to just casually fucking, and I am like

but, while that attitude of his kind of became The Point for me, I don't think it's the Intended Point of the Novel.)

So there's an inquest and all his pals on the board are like, Just say you're sorry and you can go back to work, and he's like, I'll admit I did it, but I won't admit to being sorry, and I THINK we're supposed to read this as some sort of Moral Stance Against Hypocrisy, whatever.

So they have to fire him and he goes and lives with his single lesbian daughter on her farm and she's isolated and vulnerable and white and there's some MORE rapings goes on (racial subtext that I can't even) and she goes from being his daughter to being Woman Raped and he just won't let it go even though she asks him to and then she turns up pregnant and that's the last straw and there is NO FEMALE CHARACTER in this book who isn't a character second and a thing in which to poke yourself (or to prevent other men from poking themselves) first. Like, his daughter has this friend who he thinks is weird and dowdy and who is MARRIED but he's still like


I am sick to death of this shit. File this under Men Writing About Douches Like They Are Some Sort of Admirable Character Who Find Redemption In The End Only I Am Not Buying It, You Asshats. The writing is super-good, though. Like that fixes anything.

Three caterpillars.


MoniqueReads said...

Books that win The Booker are "odd" for a lack of a better word. I wonder who is on that committee and what the requirement to join is. Anyways, great review.

AnimeJune said...

OMG, this review. I feels it. I feels it so hard.

And I totally get it. It's basically Male Privilege: The Book. Because it's so deep to write a disgustingly selfish character.

I mean, there's a spectrum, writers. You can write a flawed and myopic male character without him being a completely irredeemable asshole. Look at TS Garp, for pete's sake. He cheated on his wife with TWO babysitters but he's also shown being tender to his kids and amazingly tolerant of and best-friendly with the AWESOMESAUCE Roberta.

But if he's just an asshole about everything to everyone? How is that even realistic, much less entertaining to read about?

I had that same problem with ON BEAUTY by Zadie Smith. The pretentious married father goes around sleeping with his daughter's friends and, like, has absolutely no remorse about it because oh he's liberal and educated and crap.

Then again, I had a problem with the novel ON BEAUTY was based on, too (oh good, pretentious snobby rich people with their pretentious snobby rich problems. PASS).

Reading Rambo said...

AGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH Reading this made me so ANGRY.

I also love the 'oh, she's had sex? BOOM, pregnant' Victorian theme. Unless Lesbian Daughter had sex with a dude a lot. Otherwise I am highly annoyed.

Also the cover is super-shitty. Also you referenced Lord Peter, so all the Christmas hugs for you.


Kayleigh said...

I was going to post a commiserating "this is bullshit" comment, but then I read Reading Rambo's comment and got the giggles.


Sandy Nawrot said...

Oh you are in primo forma Raych! I love it when you get all worked up. Sounds like this is a worthy book over which to get your feathers ruffled. Freaking asshats. Booker and I don't ever see eye to eye.

Amanda said...

I read Coetzee's ELIZABETH COSTELLO which was basically all women are either OLD HAGS or LADIES FOR WHICH I CAN HAVE-A THE SEXING and I got a bit blergh, this guy is lame. Which is to say, I've never gone back.

Jenners said...

Oh I didn't like this book at all. Ugh. And I'm hearing you -- Booker Prize is starting to mean "perhaps you ought to skip this one."

Amy said...


and i also love this review. Though I don't think I could read the other book you're reading either. But I will defff give this one a miss!

Bybee said...

I think David is supposed to = White South African who benefited from Apartheid and white rule. When he gets turned in, that's supposed to = Apartheid crashing down. His lesbian daughter = South Africa (the country) itself?? Perhaps the ANC represents the rapists??? I don't know. It all gives me a headache. Loved your review, though.

L E Carmichael said...

The annoying part is that those men don't see the need to be redeemed at the end, because they don't think anything's wrong with them. I beg to differ.

Colleen said...

Yes, this is EXACTLY how I felt about Disgrace. Do not read Youth; less rape but more wankery and self-absorption and no good writing! Why the eff indeed did this guy win the Booker?

Gayle Weiswasser said...

I read this ages ago. And I didn't really remember it until I read your review. And now I remember it. You are totally right. Disturbing book for all of the reasons you set out.