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Literature / Disgrace

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1999 Booker Prize-winning novel by South African author J. M. Coetzee.

Just as the apartheid days are coming to a close, twice-divorced Cape Town lecturer David Lurie is dismissed from his university post after an affair with one of his students. Beset by scandal, he relocates to his daughter Lucy's farm in the Eastern Cape, and under her influence begins to find a harmonious new lease of life. The tranquility proves short-lived, however, when they are subjected to a horrific attack, which brings the faultlines in David's relationship with his daughter and with their black neighbours to the fore.

This work contains examples of:

  • Alliterative Name: Lucy Lurie.
  • Amicably Divorced: David and his second wife Rosalind are still friends and regularly meet each other.
  • Byronic Hero: David Lurie is a textbook example. He's even working on an opera about Lord Byron, which is probably Coetzee's way of lampshading it.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Lucy calls out David on his self-absorbed nature near the end of the novel.
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: Petrus was this during the apartheid years. Since the democratic transition, he's acquired some land of his own.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: It's implied that the gang rape of Lucy, a lesbian, was in part motivated by homophobia.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: One of the ways David rationalises his destructive sexual behaviour.
  • Moral Myopia: David Lurie is naturally outraged by the gang rape of his daughter Lucy, though early in the book he himself has non-consensual sex with a vulnerable student, which in his narration he insists is "not quite rape".
  • "Not So Different" Remark: A dark example, in which David comes to realise that, by his exploitation of an unwilling student, he is little different from the men who raped his daughter.
  • No Woman's Land: South Africa, if the parade of misogynists and rapists (including the main character) is anything to go by.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: David (who is a "hero" only in that he is the book's protagonist) retains a condescending attitude towards blacks, and is frankly sexist. While he seems to be perfectly comfortable with Lucy's homosexuality, it is partly because he is in denial about it, imagining her and her partner as being like girls at a slumber party, or simply as the status of a woman who doesn't need men.