“… under the same silent far-off heavens, and with the same passionate desires, the same strivings, the same failures, the same weariness.” – George Eliot
J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace is a gripping page-turner; initially because of the ironic descriptiion of the life of a sensualist, or a modern-day Byron, exercising his ‘rights’, the manifold ‘freedoms’ of the individual, one of which may be the qualms-free succumbing to impulses. As the narrative moves on, every event is like an idea gone wrong, like honey turned foul, sickly pungent. The more you read, the sorrier you become, plunged unawares into the shared experience of disgrace that permeates the novel.
The disgrace of the old mixing with the young, the disgrace of being violated, of bearing the marks of that violation for centuries and generations, the disgrace of unwanted breeding, of being one too many, the many disgraces of death, of senescence , of the unshapely, the comical, and the disgrace, ultimately, of being fallen — the Fall from power, dignity, independence, from one’s own. The individual enmeshed in this inexorable state of ‘fallen-ness’ is like the music of the toy banjo, which the haggard, disgraced ex-professor plays in accompaniment to Byron and Teresa’s ghostly romance:
“the voice that strains to soar away from the ludicrous instrument but is continually reined back, like a fish on a line.”
The energy of the narrative seems to slacken towards the end: the characters no longer the ‘actors’ but those ‘acted upon’. Perhaps Coetzee is enacting out the theme of disgrace on the level of narrative too; the lion’s share of the novel is devoted to consequences, movements post-action, the effects of actions ‘done’, spent, or to use David Lurie’s word, in the ‘perfective’. Things have been done — violation and violence performed, passion burnt out — what remains is the ‘dealing with’ them, the ‘taking in’, the slow accustomization to the smoke of lost, expired fires, the adapting to the past.
CLOWNIN’ Rating: 4/5