Summary and book reviews of Disgrace by J M Coetzee

Disgrace

By J M Coetzee

Disgrace
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Jul 1999,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2000,
    224 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

Set in post-apartheid South Africa, Nobel Prize Winner, J. M. Coetzee’s searing novel tells the story of David Lurie, a twice divorced, 52-year-old professor of communications and Romantic Poetry at Cape Technical University. Lurie believes he has created a comfortable, if somewhat passionless, life for himself. He lives within his financial and emotional means. Though his position at the university has been reduced, he teaches his classes dutifully; and while age has diminished his attractiveness, weekly visits to a prostitute satisfy his sexual needs. He considers himself happy. But when Lurie seduces one of his students, he sets in motion a chain of events that will shatter his complacency and leave him utterly disgraced.

Lurie pursues his relationship with the young Melanie—whom he describes as having hips "as slim as a twelve-year-old’s"—obsessively and narcissistically, ignoring, on one occasion, her wish not to have sex. When Melanie and her father lodge a complaint against him, Lurie is brought before an academic committee where he admits he is guilty of all the charges but refuses to express any repentance for his acts. In the furor of the scandal, jeered at by students, threatened by Melanie’s boyfriend, ridiculed by his ex-wife, Lurie is forced to resign and flees Cape Town for his daughter Lucy’s smallholding in the country. There he struggles to rekindle his relationship with Lucy and to understand the changing relations of blacks and whites in the new South Africa. But when three black strangers appear at their house asking to make a phone call, a harrowing afternoon of violence follows which leaves both of them badly shaken and further estranged from one another. After a brief return to Cape Town, where Lurie discovers his home has also been vandalized, he decides to stay on with his daughter, who is pregnant with the child of one of her attackers. Now thoroughly humiliated, Lurie devotes himself to volunteering at the animal clinic, where he helps put down diseased and unwanted dogs. It is here, Coetzee seems to suggest, that Lurie gains a redeeming sense of compassion absent from his life up to this point.

Written with the austere clarity that has made J. M. Coetzee the winner of two Booker Prizes, Disgrace explores the downfall of one man and dramatizes, with unforgettable, at times almost unbearable, vividness the plight of a country caught in the chaotic aftermath of centuries of racial oppression.

Chapter One

FOR A MAN of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well. On Thursday afternoons he drives to Green Point. Punctually at two p.m. he presses the buzzer at the entrance to Windsor Mansions, speaks his name, and enters. Waiting for him at the door of No. 113 is Soraya. He goes straight through to the bedroom, which is pleasant-smelling and softly lit, and undresses. Soraya emerges from the bathroom, drops her robe, slides into bed beside him. 'Have you missed me?' she asks. 'I miss you all the time,' he replies. He strokes her honey-brown body, unmarked by the sun; he stretches her out, kisses her breasts; they make love.

Soraya is tall and slim, with long black hair and dark, liquid eyes. Technically he is old enough to be her father; but then, technically, one can be a father at twelve. He has been on her books for over a year; he finds her entirely satisfactory. In the desert of the week ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The novel begins by telling us that "For a man his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well."
    What can you infer about David Lurie's character from this sentence? In what ways is it significant, particularly in relation to the events that follow, that he views sex as a "problem" and that his "solution" depends upon a prostitute?

  2. Lurie describes sexual intercourse with the prostitute Soraya as being like the copulation of snakes, "lengthy, absorbed, but rather abstract, rather dry, even at its hottest." When he decides to seduce his student, Melanie, they are passing through the college gardens. After their affair has been discovered ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews
Salon - Andrew O'Hehir

In his sober, searing and even cynical little book Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee tells us something we all suspect and fear -- that political change can do almost nothing to eliminate human misery.

Boston Sunday Globe

Disgrace is a relentlessly bleak novel.

New York Times Book Review

The effect of the novel's plot is deeply disturbing, in part because of what happens to David and Lucy, but equally because of the disintegrating context of their experiences.

New York Post

J.M. Coetzee's new novel Disgrace, which last week won the South Afrian writer his second Booker Prize is an absolute page-turner. It is also profound, rich and remarkable ... is destined to be a classic.

People Magazine - Paula Chin

Disgrace is a gripping tale told with spare pose, steely intelligence and a remarkable degree of tenderness.

Onion A.V. Club - Scott Tobias

....That's about as much hope as Coetzee can bring himself to offer, but Disgrace unfolds with such hardened wisdom and assurance that its arid beauty sinks into your bones.

Dallas Morning News

Disgrace is an act of literature ... further proof that Mr. Coetzee stands with the very best writers in the world today.

Wall Street Journal

The most powerful novel this year.

Newsweek

A slim novel with a bleak powerful story to tell ... Coetzee writes with a cool, calm lucidity that fends off despair, and his characters find a kind of peace in acceptance, if not hope.

The New Yorker

Disgrace is not a hard or obscure book--it is, among other things, compulsively readable--but what it may well be is an authentically spiritual document, a lament for the soul of a disgraced century.

USA Today

Written in deceptively spare prose that lets an eerie story unfold, Disgrace is a revelatory, must-read portrayal of racial fortunes reversed.

Christian Science Monitor - Ron Charles

It may be that 200 pages have never worked so hard as they do in Coetzee's hands. He's a novelist of stunning precision and efficiency. Disgrace loses none of its fidelity to the social and political complexities of South Africa, even while it explores the troubling tensions between generations, sexes, and races. This is a novel of almost frightening perception from a writer of brutally clear prose.

Book Magazine - Penelope Mesic

Disgrace is a superbly constructed work of pain and candor, and although it involves events that require the largest generosity, it has as its hero a man gripped by habits of petty selfishness.

Library Journal

Coetzee's eighth novel employs spare, compelling prose to explore subtly the stuttering steps one man takes in a new world.

Publishers Weekly

To perceive is to understand in this beautifully spare, necessary novel.

Sunday Telegraph (UK)

The kind of territory J.M Coetzee has made his own...By this late point in the century, the journey to a heart of narrative darkness has become a safe literary destination...Disgrace goes beyond this to explore the furthest reaches of what it means to be human it is at the frontier of world literature.

Author Blurb Deanna Wood
There are few writers in English who equal this South African writer's hard intelligence. Few are as philosophical, or as familiar with the language and the mosed of post-structural and post-colonial theory...

Reader Reviews
Cloggie Downunder

unappealing
Disgrace is the eighth stand-alone novel by award-winning author, J.M.Coetzee. After a short-lived, impulsive affair with a student, Romance poetry teacher, David Lurie resigns his position at Cape Town Technical University and retreats to his ...   Read More

Mr. Naval Langa

The Graceful Disgrace
A flower starts journey from the dust. The dust is sex for the disgaced David. The master craftman Mr. J. M. Coetzee transforms him into a full grown, aromatic flower at the end of the novel. It hardly matters it got Booker. It is one of the books of...   Read More

Ashley

This book was great. We were allowed to choose from an array of postcolonial novels in my english course and I chose this one. I have minimal complaints, and those would be that the ending was obscure and unrelated. A minor theme becomes the ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Disgrace, try these:

  • Brodeck jacket

    Brodeck

    by Phillipe Claudel

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Set in an unnamed time and place, Brodeck blends the familiar and unfamiliar, myth and history into a work of extraordinary power and resonance. Readers of J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, Bernhard Schlink's The Reader and Kafka will be captivated by Brodeck.

  • Disquiet jacket

    Disquiet

    by Julia Leigh

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Olivia arrives at her mother’s chateau in rural France, where she is joined by Olivia’s brother Marcus and his wife Sophie - but this reunion is far from joyful, as each woman wrestles with their own pain.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes

Books with similar themes


Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Hundred-Year House
    The Hundred-Year House
    by Rebecca Makkai
    Rebecca Makkai's sophomore novel The Hundred-Year House could just have easily been titled ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...
  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Arsonist
by Sue Miller

Published Jun. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  132Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.