A few weeks ago, a new boss invited me to dinner. "Dinner!" I thought, "we do have similar interests." But even warm wafts of asparagus risotto couldn't obscure an awkwardly divergent interest positioned prominently on a coffee table, spine creased and soft: J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace.
What a miserable book. Disgrace is hundreds of pages of pure whining from the point of view of David Lurie, a white, middle-aged South African professor who feels martyred by the world. We meet Dr. Lurie at a moment of transition: he has just moved onto his daughter's farm after being asked to leave the university where he teaches. Why? University authorities have discovered that the tortured hero rapes and stalks his students.
Coetzee takes this moment of familial reunion to explore just how sad an ageing professor might feel about having one of those un-sympathetic, unattractive lesbian types for a daughter. Luckily, this deranged macho cosmos is set back in order when burglars rape the daughter, conveniently allowing Dr. Lurie to find redemption by fulfilling his fatherly role and tending to the needs of a now broken, compliant and dependent offspring. Family values are thus restored, but the whole episode sparks a fit of moroseness about life's profound injustice. Dr. Lurie goes on to contemplatively kill dogs and buy prostitutes.
Human nature is dark, old white men have it hard—you get the gist. Of course, Disgrace won the Booker Prize, and this fellow Coetzee won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003. He's a Serious Author, to which others attest: "A colleague who has worked with him for more than a decade claims to have seen him laugh just once. An acquaintance has attended several dinner parties where Coetzee has uttered not a single word."
My dinner conversation was a little strained, too. What do you say when you can't say anything nice?