Friday, December 31, 2004

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

This novel isn't at all what I thought it would be. I knew it was about a professor accused of sexual harrassment, a topic that's looking fairly tired, but Coetzee merely uses that as his initial premise -- the incident that leads to the incident that leads to the incident which is the novel's center. What interested me is how Coetzee gets away with, and indeed succeeds at, some things I know I would warn against in a workshop. To start off, I'm quite sure if I saw the title Disgrace at the top of a story or novel draft, I'd cross it out and write "too obvious" next to it. And yet ... and yet... attached to this novel, the word has a lyric, mournful sound that makes it an appropriate center for the work. Disgrace is, quite hit over the head with a hammer, what the novel is about, yet because Coetzee actually has interesting things to say about the state of "disgrace" it definitely works.

The events of the novel are very large, very violent, very dramatic. And again Coetzee gets away with what I might caution against in workshop in part because of the larger scope of the novel (South African politics, which are not subtle) and in part because the language is so understated and removed. There is a large psychic distance at work, and that actually suits the sense of a character in shock at what violence has so suddenly entered his life. Increasingly I'm realizing that huge events can work extremely well in novels (perhaps less so in short stories, or perhaps I'm just not convinced yet), but they need room to be explored. The repercussions need to play out fully -- something that isn't going to happen in a twenty-page workshop installment. Which reminds me why it's so important for student writers, in particular, to be reading a lot and discovering for themselves what works in finished books. Interestingly, some of the more "workshoppy" elements of the novel -- especially the return to each element of the beginning of the novel (the harrassment, the dog shelter, the farm) in the novel's end didn't work as well for me. Only then did the fact that the Professor was (symbolically) punished for raping one man's daughter by having his own daughter raped feel forced into the novel rather than of it. Still, in the end, the plot feels real because of the real consequences the characters suffer.

1 comment:

Google Page Rank 6 said...

Want more clicks to your Adsense Ads on your Blog?

Then you have to check out my blog. I have found a FREE and Legitimate way that will increase your earnings.

Come Check us out. How to Boost Your AdSense Revenue