Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

Date Read: February 8th 2016

Published: 1999

Publisher: Penguin Books

Pages: 220

disgrace coetzee


The Blurb

At fifty-two, Professor David Lurie is divorced, filled with desire, but lacking in passion. When an affair with a student leaves him jobless, shunned by friends, and ridiculed by his ex-wife, he retreats to his daughter Lucy’s smallholding. David’s visit becomes an extended stay as he attempts to find meaning in his one remaining relationship. Instead, an incident of unimaginable terror and violence forces father and daughter to confront their strained relationship – and the equally complicated racial complexities of the new South Africa.


Review –  ★★★★ (4 stars)

This book engrossed me from the first to the last page! I totally understand why J.M. Coetzee won several awards for this novel, including The Man Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature 4 years after the publication of this book AND even has a 2008 film adaptation of this book starring John Malkovich as the main character, Professor David Lurie. I need to find that film and watch it! I doubt it would be as good as the book, but it will definitely be worth the watch.

Professor David Lurie – the protagonist (who is portrayed as a white South African) rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning of this novel. We first encounter him in bed with a prostitute at a brothel he frequents in Cape Town. This prostitute for some reason decides to quite her job, and David starts searching for her, as he believes they share an intimate bond. Once she tells him off after he spotted her with her children walking about in town, he decides to find new sexual adventures elsewhere. Sooner than later, David finds interest in one of his undergraduate students – Melanie.

For some strange, sick reason, David believes Melanie is actually into him and he invites her to his home, makes her feel comfortable with some alcohol and sleeps with her. This happens several times during the semester, even though Melanie is clearly uncomfortable. When David is finally confronted with his inappropriate behavior by the academic board and Melanie’s father, David (who is not really ashamed of this abominable affair) quits his job and travels to the countryside where his daughter, Lucy resides. Lucy isn’t the same girl David knew her to be. She is overweight, slightly depressed and seems to be living in a trance as she resides on a farm, adjacent to Petrus – a black South African, who apparently is helpful to her.

The story takes a serious turn while David stays in the countryside with Lucy. Readers are rudely awakened by the violent, racially tense incidents that occur and the novel suddenly becomes dark and quite frightening. J.M. Coetzee does an incredible job at ceasing readers’ attention and emotions from the beginning of this novel to the end. There are heavy themes of rape, racism, violence, depression, (white) guilt, animal rights issues, new generation versus old generation, abortion, shame, feminism, sexism, satyriasis, infidelity AND disgrace – all in this novel!

When I sat back and accessed how I felt about this book after I completed it, I concluded that there were double meanings and interpretations to the events that occur in the storyline. There are lots of complexities to unravel in this book. Disgrace would make for excellent discussions in book clubs and literature classes. I have so many opinions on David and his daughter Lucy – it was hard not to judge them… but I’ll keep my opinions to myself so I don’t divulge too much of the storyline! This book definitely took a toll on my emotions and actually had me feeling offended and upset at some parts. Please be warned: if rape is a trigger for you, you might not want to read this novel.

Disgrace is excellent literary fiction, nonetheless. This was a great page-turner with intelligent, yet tender prose. I will surely read more Coetzee soon. Disgrace takes place in South Africa, but the myriad of sensitive themes addressed are certainly universal to humanity. I give this 4.5 stars. Please read this!

(I got Disgrace from a used book store [Ghana Book Trust] last summer. I found some other gems there too! Check out Challenge Update (summer); Currently Reading to see them).

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Disgrace on Amazon

30 thoughts on “Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

    1. Yes, please re-read it! I want to read your thoughts, because we all view and understand stories like this differently. I’m curious to see how you view it. And agreed, Coetzee is amazing 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Hakeem. You’re welcome and thanks for stopping by :). I agree, the book cover is so clean! But definitely a contrast to all the mess that occurs in the novel haha. I hope to read your thoughts after you read it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I finally read this book and I still don’t know how I feel. It was gripping from start to finish and after the last page I sat, trying to understand what I had just been through.

        It’s incredibly well written and leaves a strong aftertaste. I think the brilliance lies in how difficult it is to clearly interpret what happened in the novel. Like you said, it will make for interesting discussions and debates.

        Thanks for sharing.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yesss, you read it! This book surely leaves you thinking! I totally agree with you. How did you feel about Lucy (David’s daughter) though? Do you think there was an element of self-hate in her character depiction? Or was she more of a sacrificial character? She made me so angry at some parts of the book…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Me too! That character made me angry a lot, along with her father. I think she was designed to defy logic at some points in the plot. It was impossible not to question her decisions, especially with the valid points her father raised. Also, I think the character of Lucy was essential in examining how we see rape.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Melanie! Yeah, I’ve heard that people hate him as well. But I think its unfair for a reader to think the author is just like the characters he writes about. I found a lot of the stuff in this book repulsive, but it only made me respect Coetzee’s imagination and storytelling abilities more. People need to chill lol. Have you read this? Please do if you haven’t. Its soo worth it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hear you. My students are horribly repulsed by James Baldwin’s “Going to Meet a Man” and then really impressed when they find out Balwin was a gay black man writing from a white rapist police officer’s POV.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Things like this just make you appreciate the author’s depth of knowledge, creativity and the ability to speak on the behalf of the oppressor! Did you like ‘Disgrace’ though? You only refer to your students/others lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Hmmm…I thought I would have it on Goodreads, buy I don’t seem to… Maybe it WAS Disgrace, as that is the only one that sound familiar. Whichever book it was, I read it in grad school around 2009. I also read Howard’s End and then On Beauty in that class, too. I do know that I own Slow Man, but haven’t read it.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I loved, loved, loved Disgrace when I first read it several years ago and I think I would love it more if I took the time after closing the final page to analyze and muse and let all the avalanche of themes sink in. Definitely great as a class reading requirement or discussion groups as you say; I imagine Disgrace is divisive, one will either react in disgust to it or defend it vehemently.

    I really ought to reread Disgrace sometime in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi hi. Yup, I agree with all you’ve said. Do read it again! I’d love to read your thoughts, as there are so many understandings and interpretations to this crazy story 🙂


  2. I read your review and IMMEDIATELY knew it was time to get at least one J.M. Coetzee novel on my bookshelf. I’ve seen his name floated around a gazillion times. This novel sounds like a really good read. Thank you so much for not divulging much but still whetting our appetites. I’ll order it. Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I hadn’t heard of this novel for some reason, or perhaps I had just forgotten about it. Seeing how it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, I will probably end up reading it some day. It sounds like excellent literary fiction that’s thought-provoking.

    That David character seems awful and unlikable. Sometimes those kinds of people are the best literary character.

    Liked by 1 person

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