by J M Coetzee
Category: Fiction / General
220 pages; ISBN: 0-099-28952-0
Rating: 7/10 (Ratings explained)
This novel won the Booker Prize in 1999, the second such triumph for its author.Like the novel's chief protagonist, Coetzee is a Literature professor in Cape Town although one hopes for his sake that the similarities end there.
David Lurie a middle-aged divorcee is an unwanted anachronism at the university who seeks solace in sex.After his cosy arrangement with a prostitute is terminated he embarks on an unwise affair with one of his students,Melanie and is hauled before a disciplinary committee.His refusal to make due contrition forces him to resign and he retreats to his daughter Lucy's farm.
His recuperation is abruptly curtailed by a violent attack on the smallholding in which he is injured and Lucy is raped.The rest of the book details their attempts to come to terms with the incident, hampered by the fragility of their own relationship.
Although Coetzee's prose is lean and effortless, the bleak subject matter doesn't make for an easy read.A happy ending never looks likely as Lurie comes to terms with his declining powers (crystallised by sleeping with a frump of his own age) and Lucy is forced to accept a humiliating offer to preserve the ragged remnants of her ideal.
It is however a very subtle novel.This being South Africa race is at the forefront of the action but is rarely directly addressed. Neither
Melanie nor Lurie's university foes have their race identified and so when Melanie's boyfriend warns Lurie to "Stay with your own kind" one is left to guess whether it refers to his age or his race. Lurie thinks Lucy is a lesbian but this is never confirmed.
The only aspect which didn't work for me was Lurie's attempts to write an opera about Byron.I
found this distracting rather than illuminating and given the author's background it smacks of self-indulgence.