The last book I loved was Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. Maybe “loved” isn’t the right word. “Loved” implies affection, fealty, romance and adoration. Coetzee’s Booker-Prize winning masterpiece affected me profoundly, but I did not feel any of those “lovely” types of emotions.
Instead, I often felt sick to my stomach while reading this book—and when I wasn’t reading it, I felt unmoored and charged with anxiety. I didn’t want to be away from the pages of the text, and yet when we were together I found myself careening through them with a lump in my throat and panic in my heart. The more I read, the more I began to question my preconceptions about myself and about the world at large. I saw my ego—as both a human being and a writer—reduced to a quivering mass of uncertainty.
Okay, so maybe “Love” is the right word after all.
Disgrace is a stark tale. In vivid and unflinching imagery, Coetzee paints a portrait of a difficult and unsympathetic man—disgraced professor David Lurie—struggling to adapt to the complicated and unforgiving social, political, and physical landscapes of post-Apartheid South Africa.
I found this book both effective—in its complex engagement with unanswerable questions about love, justice, mercy and redemption—and affective—the imagery and narrative tension of Disgrace will lodge itself in the pit of your stomach and stay there long after you’ve turned the final page.