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analyticalQ Book Reviews by Anne Ku


by J.M.Coetzee

ISBN 0-09-928952-0, copyright 1999, 220 pages paperback

5 May 2000

My South African colleague slapped this thin paperback on my desk before I even got a chance to sit down.  He said,"I just finished this book.  It's fantastic.  Gripping.  You have to read it."

I wasn't so sure.  The cover was a photograph of a thin dog.  And I'm not a dog person.

However, since Coetzee had won the 1999 Booker prize and I had just been to Africa, I was compelled to drop the other two books I was half-way through reading (Anne Rice's Violin, and Natalie Angier's Woman: An Intimate Geography).   Surely it wouldn't take long to finish this book.

How wrong I was!

Written by a middle-aged literature professor about a middle-aged literature lecturer in South Africa - the author must know his stuff.  I have seen Lolita - and I have heard of the mid-age crisis in men, their falling for much younger women.  But I haven't read it as a piece of literature - in such a nested fashion.  The main character wants to write a book about Byron, thus beautiful excerpts of poetry and prose flow out.  But the book itself (Disgrace) is full of such literary beauty.

Everything was predictable about such human weakness.   It started to slow down to a halt towards the middle of the book.  Just when I thought I have to abandon yet another half-way-through-I'll-pick-it-up-again-later book, suddenly - BOOM!  SHOCK! 

Then another SHOCK.

The end leaves the reader hanging.  Is there a sequel?   Or does the author expect the reader to have as vivid an imagination, as prolific a writer as he?