Sunday, 31 March 2013

Blogger Won't Let Me be Great

I've been having serious issues with posting (no pictures) and changing my linkage to the left all week, but since it's Easter I haven't really been too inclined to try to work things out. Hopefully, I'll be able to create proper posts tomorrow - or whenever blogger feels ready to fix these issues.

Happy Easter!

And if you don't Easter, then Happy Sunday!

Monday, 25 March 2013

L'Assommoir by Émile Zola (4/5)

First published: 1877
Original title:
L'Assommoir

Original language: French
Translation to English by: Project Gutenberg doesn’t say who the translator is
Page count: 443


GoodReads says: The seventh novel in the Rougon-Macquart cycle, L'Assommoir (1877) is the story of a woman's struggle for happiness in working-class Paris. At the center of the story stands Gervaise, who starts her own laundry and for a time makes a success of it. But her husband soon squanders her earnings in the Assommoir, a local drinking spot, and gradually the pair sink into poverty and squalor. L'Assommoir was a contemporary bestseller, outraged conservative critics, and launched a passionate debate about the legitimate scope of modern literature. This new translation captures not only the brutality but the pathos of its characters' lives.

I say: Well, what can I say that will do this masterpiece justice?
Probably nothing.

Everything about this novel is full of conflicts in my head; on the one hand I loved the story, but on the other I didn’t like how it progressed and ended. I often found myself sympathising with Gervaise, but she also annoyed the hell out of me. The writing was beautifully descriptive and I could see their Paris as I read about it, but sometimes Zola went into too exacting detail and I found my mind drifting to other things. This is a proper love/hate novel for me – although, I love it a little more than I hate it.
It evoked strong feelings, is essentially what I am trying to say.

And we love that.
We do.

So, Gervais has two children by Lantier and they run off to Paris. Shortly at the beginning of the novel he leaves her, and she has to fend for herself while working as a washerwoman. She later on marries Coupeau, a roofer. They have a daughter and together manage to save up enough money to allow Gervaise to open up her own business. However, just before they move, Coupeau falls off a roof and is unable to work for a long while. As always with these stories, business is booming at the start, but after a while Coupeau spends more time and money drinking, and when Lantier comes back things go from bad to worse at an alarming speed.
Of course.

The novel is sometimes translated as The Dram Shop, The Gin Palace, The Drunkard, etc, because L'Assommoir cannot be properly translated into English. But it refers to the drinking places Coupeau regularly visits.
As I said at the beginning of this review, it was a love/hate read for me, where the hate was more due to the actions of the characters and the implications that they had no choices when they clearly did. It is masterfully written, and finding out that it was part 7 in a 20 volume series both daunted and excited me. I think this will be my next great obsession (once I finish In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust – which I have so shamelessly been ignoring for way too long).

We had a really interesting discussion about this in our uni seminar, and because I don’t want to get too technical about its literary features here, I am just going to say that this truly is a must read. And the main reason it’s not getting the full 5/5 is that a lot of the plot and characters felt forced into certain situations simply because Zola wanted to make a point. I don’t like it when that overshadows the story itself, and I felt that it clearly did here.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Friday Funs

Not many reviews this week. Mostly because I've bought new bookshelves that I've been busy arranging and re-arranging and hating and wishing I'd just stuck with leaving my books in a pile on the floor. While engaging in this annoying task, I've been looking extra hard at all my book covers, remembering which I cought for the cover alone, and which I can't stand to look at.

I have some seriously wtf-inducing covers that make me love the fact that I can only see the spine.

Therefore this week's Friday Fun is a link to a new blog I've found: Caustic Cover Critic: "one man's endless ranting about book design" because if I can't work, I'll laugh and point a finger at those who do.

Or something like that.

Speaking of book covers, here's a comparison between US and UK covers that I found quite nice to look at.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (3/5)

First published: 1949
Page count: 245


The back says: ‘How lovely – green velvet and silver, I call that a dream, so soft and delicious, too.’ She rubbed a fold of the skirt against her cheek. ‘Mine’s silver lame, it smells like a bird cage when it gets hot but I do love it. Aren’t you thankful evening skirts are long again?’

The dresses, but of the boredom of the Season, even for Polly Hampton, with her outstanding looks and excellent connections – the ultimate ‘It Girl’ of fashionable society. Groomed from a young age for marriage by her mother, the fearsome Lady Montdore, Polly causes a scandal when she declares her love for her uncle ‘Boy’ Dougdale, the Lecherous Lecturer, and runs off to France...

Nancy Mitford’s wickedly funny novel continues the story of all those extraordinary characters in The Pursuit of Love.

I say: I read this for my 100 Classics Challenge and since I have stopped reading synopsis at the back of books, I didn’t know that this was a sequel. However, that didn’t really bother me at all – and I may even read the first novel, The Pursuit of Love, if I should stumble upon it.

And have time.

This was not really my cup of tea, even though I can see why it’s a classic and people love it. The characters are very vividly portrayed and the dialogue is swift and witty. Even though it’s not my type of humour, I did snicker here and there; mostly when Jassy and Victoria were going on about something, and Cedric Hampton had a lot of good lines. The rest of them had their occasional moments.

The story starts out with Polly refusing to marry, and not having read the synopsis, it came as a surprise to me when she decided to get engaged to her uncle (by marriage) after her aunt (her mother’s sister) had only recently died. No need to say it causes a scandal, and they run off to France –

thank you very much, oh spoilery synopsis –

and we are left with Franny, the narrator and close friend of Polly, and the rest of society speculating about the marriage. Polly gets disinherited and her parents search out a distant cousin, Cedric, who comes to stay with them and brings much hilarity to their boring lives.

And by hilarity I mean he made time move much faster.

I don’t really have that much to say about the writing beyond what I’ve already said. Although I wouldn’t mind reading more of Mitford, I am not going to go out of my way to find her works. There are a few female English novelists whose works I wouldn’t be able to tell apart if a random selection was read to me, and Mitford fits right in there.

It’s a little bit wit and a little bit meh.

Vanilla, I’ll say. Sometimes that’s all I want, but usually I need some sprinkles or fudge sauce (or a brownie, apple crumble, blueberry pie). You get the picture (I love my puddings*).

*English for dessert.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Man in the Dark by Paul Auster (3/5)

First published: 2008
Page count: 180


The back says: Seventy-two-year-old August Brill is recovering from a car accident in his daughter’s house in Vermont. When sleep refuses to come, he lies in bed and tells himself stories, struggling to push back thoughts about things he would prefer to forget – his wife’s recent death and the horrific murder of his granddaughter’s boyfriend.

August imagines a parallel world in which America is not at war with Iraq but with itself – a world in which the Twin Towers did not fall but instead a brutal civil war erupted after the 2000 election. As the night progresses, August’s story grows increasingly intense, and what he is so desperately trying to avoid insists on being told. 

I say: What an utter disappointment this turned out to be. After starting out and progressing as a mind-fucking annoying meta novel about August inventing a story about Owen Brick; a magician who has been transferred to an alternative universe where a dystopian America is dealing with civil war and he is told he has to kill the creator of this war in the alternative universe or he and his wife will be killed. The twist being that the creator of the civil war is August. So Owen is transferred back to his normal universe to track down August, which he refuses to do and the military has to pay him a visit.

Dun dun dun dun...

I was ridiculously excited to find out how that story was going to pan out when it ended with inane abruptness and we were slung back into August’s boring world where he spends his day watching films with his grand-daughter in his daughter’s house that they all live in after various tragedies. I had zero interest in this story and merely trudged along because I’d already started reading and might as well.

Spoiler: the story grows more boring with each page.

I don’t have any commentary on Auster’s writing; it got the job done. I have a couple more of his works stashed somewhere and was actually looking forward to this read as I’ve only heard good things about him, but meh. Perhaps his other works are less disappointing.

So yeah, 5/5 for the initial meta madness and 2/5 for the story (that wasn’t really that bad – it just bored me to tears having expected something completely different). It all evens out to a total of 3/5 and a serious scowl.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Friday Funs

I literally laughed out loud when I first saw this. It's silly beyond words, but I can't help but love it.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Foe by J. M. Coetzee (2/5)

First published: 1986
Page count: 157


The back says: Some time in the second decade of the eighteenth century one Susan Barton told Mr Daniel Foe of her hard and unusual life – most particularly the span of time she spent cast away on an island with a man called Cruso and his mutilated negro servant Friday. This is the story of her story and how it fared at the hands of Foe; distorted truth and inventor of histories.

The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719 by renowned journalist Daniel Defoe. Enormously successful, it is the supposedly true story of a man stranded for many years on an island in the Atlantic with only his servant Man Friday for company. No mention of Susan Barton is made in it.

I say: This was almost as boring a read as the novel it was based on, Robinson Crusoe. And by almost I mean that it didn’t have all of the elements that annoyed me with Robinson Crusoe,

i.e. everything.

In this version, Susan is stranded on the same island and Cruso and Friday and claims that Cruso told her that Friday had his tongue cut out by slave traders and that they’ve been together ever since their ship sank. According to Susan Cruso lies about everything, doesn’t give a jot about being saved, and is quite unpleasant. Despite all this she allows him to have sex with her; not because she wants to but because she feels like she might as well let him since he’s been without a woman for so long.

Say what!?

They finally get saved (no thanks to Cruso, who dies on the voyage back) and when they land in England Susan feels responsible for Friday so she decides to stay with him. She looks up Foe and writes letters about her life on the island, which he then turns into the story we all know – full of lies and make believe. After being a complete idiot for a few months Susan shacks up with Foe, who tries to teach Friday to write and read. A lot of other random silliness happens that made me want to gouge my eyes out, but I rather enjoy seeing, so I didn’t.

Needless to say, this was a serious work of meh and Coetzee should have left it as sad fan fiction entry on some obscure message board.

Ugh.

I didn’t enjoy the writing because it felt too much like Coetzee was trying to copy Defoe, which can never be a good thing. The premise sounded like a good idea – or at least I thought so when I bought it – but it was executed in a very bad way. Luckily it was a only mere 157 pages, which may still have been 150 too many.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Angels Anglada (2/5)

First published: 1994
Original title:
El violi d'Auschwitz

Original language: Spanish
Translation to English by: Martha Tennent, 2010
Page count: 128


The back says: In the winter of 1991, at a concert in Krakow, an older woman with a marvellously pitched violin meets a fellow musician who is instantly captivated by her instrument. When he asks her how she obtained it, she reveals the remarkable story behind its origin...

Imprisoned at Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp, Daniel feels his humanity slipping away. Treasured memories of the young woman he loved become hazier with each passing day. But when Daniel's former identity as a crafter of fine violins is revealed, the Kommandant and camp doctor use this information to make a cruel wager. And so, battling exhaustion, Daniel tries to recapture his lost art, knowing all too well the likely cost of failure.

I say: I expected to much more from this than what I got, and to say that I am disappointed would be correct. Knowing very well how morbid this may sound, there was a period in my teens when I was obsessed with The Holocaust and read innumerable novels about its prisoners, loving, and simultaneously, dreading the outcome. So it was with great anticipation that I bought this, hoping for a beautiful tale, but instead I got a contrived story of absolute improbability.

Or maybe I shouldn’t say ‘improbable’ as we all know everything was probably during WWII – semantics are your friend – so I’ll say ‘unconvincing’.

When Daniel is sent to Auschwitz he says that he is a carpenter and is put to work fixing random things in the Kommandant’s house. After hearing a violinist being admonished for playing poorly, Daniel steps up and says that it was the fault of the violin, not the player. Daniel is told to fix the instrument, and after doing so to the satisfaction of the Kommandant, he is soon told to build a violin from scratch. The wager between the Kommandant and the doctor is that if Daniel cannot finish the instrument within a certain amount of time, the doctor gets to use his body for experiments. If Daniel manages, however, the Kommandant gets a case of wine.

Sickening.

The prose in the novel was rather dull, but fast-paced enough for me to not get too stuck on particulars. It seems as though the only details we really got were those concerning the making of a violin, rather than the life in Auschwitz. It felt like Anglada focused so much energy on making sure the right process was explained rather than focusing on the genuine state of Daniel. Yes, she told of his life prior to the war, what happened to the woman he loved, and how he suffered, but it all just felt like a pretext to tell a story about a luthier, i.e. a violin maker.

And, quite frankly, it bored me.

The prose was meh, the story was meh, and the only really good thing I got out of it was learning that a violin maker is called a luthier. And I am not even going to mention how brazenly Schindler was put into the story (apart from through this passive-aggressive remark). Now, I am no WWII expert so maybe he did save luthiers all over the German territory, but the way she inserted him just made me cringe.

Ugh.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (4/5)

First published: 1964
Page count: 152


The back says: In this brilliantly perceptive novel, a middle aged professor living in California, is alienated from his students by differences in age and nationality, and from the rest of society by his homosexuality. Isherwood explores the depths of the human soul and its ability to triumph over loneliness, alienation and loss.

I say: This is one of the few novels I’ve read where I think the film version was better (and not just because it featured the perfection that art Colin Firth), but because it conveyed a different, more sombre and achingly beautiful portrait of George. The novel’s George didn’t come across as sensitive and lost as the film version – and also, the endings were different and I preferred the film version.

But enough about that.

The novel is still brilliant piece of work and I am mostly impressed with Isherwood’s observant and sometimes poetic prose – but without any airs. The novel begins as such:
Waking up begins with saying am and now. That which has awoken then lies for a while staring up at the ceiling and down into itself until it has recognised I, and therefrom deduced I am, I am now. Here comes next, and is at least negatively reassuring; because here, this morning, is where it had expected to find itself; what’s called home.

Then it takes a while, and a few ritualistic steps, for it to become George.

This reminds me of those mornings you wake up not quite knowing who or where you are, and it takes you those few extra seconds to put things back in order.

Well, George puts himself back in enough order to go to teach a class at university to students who don’t seem to understand what he’s trying to say. He talks about Aldous Huxley, W.B. Yeats, Lord Tennyson and Greek mythology and I long to read all the works to understand what exactly it is George is trying to convey. After class he runs into a couple of student, goes back home, visits a friend, and ends up at a bar where he meets one of his students. In between these rather mundane actions we get flashbacks to George’s life before his lover died, and we realize why his heart isn’t in it anymore.

There’s a certain kind of intimacy that Isherwood thrusts upon the reader, making you feel as if you know George personally, or he’s chosen to show you this one day in his life, and I loved that. Although George is comfortable with his homosexuality he knows that the neighbours have issues with it, and wonders if his students can tell. It is also one of the root causes to his refusal to appear at his lover’s funeral and, in a very profound way, the reason (or even excuse) to his being alone.

However, it’s not just all doom and gloom, there is a lot of wittiness in here, some light-hearted banter and a few rather funny episodes. The weird thing is that had I not seen the film version prior to reading the novel, I may have given this a 5/5. But because I know how much better different and more desperate and bleak the story could have been, I was longing for that throughout the read.

I have stayed clear of the film as I didn’t want that to taint my review, but I shall be retiring to bed with Mr Firth later on tonight. If you haven’t seen it what the hell are you waiting for you have to; if anything for the staggeringly beautiful cinematography (and Tom Ford’s exquisite suits).

Monday, 11 March 2013

Father Goriot [Old Goriot] by Honore de Balzac (4/5)

First published: 1835
Original title:
Le Père Goriot

Original language: French
Translation to English by:
Ellen Marriage (the translation of Old Goriot had gone through 54 editions by 2006 and was still held then by 1306 libraries worldwide – says Wiki)
Page count: 445


The back says: Monsieur Goriot is one of a disparate group of lodgers at Mademe Vauquer's dingy Parisian boarding house. At first his wealth inspires respect, but as his circumstances are mysteriously reduced he becomes shunned by those around him, and soon his only remaining visitors are his two beautifully dressed daughters. Goriot's fate is intertwined with two other fellow boarders: the young social climber Eugene Rastignac, who sees a way to gain the acceptance and wealth he craves, and the enigmatic figure of Vautrin, who is hiding darker secrets than anyone. Weaving a compelling and panoramic story of love, money, self-sacrifice, corruption, greed and ambition, "Old Man Goriot" is Balzac's acknowledged masterpiece. A key novel in his "Comedie Humaine" series, it is a vividly realized portrait of bourgeois Parisian society in the years following the French Revolution.

I say: The one thing I enjoyed most about this novel was de Balzac’s writing; it was witty, poignant, and full of wonderful and excellently phrased metaphors.

In other words, everything I want in a writer.

However, there was the ordeal of the story itself, which put a few dampers in my burgeoning love for de Balzac. We have Goriot who has spent all his money on his two daughters who now shun him. He lives in a boarding house with an array of characters, among them Eugene who later starts an affair with one of his daughters. Along the way we deal with a whole lot of funny, as well as rather trite, dialogue; lies, bitterness, jealousy, betrayal and death.

The way things usually go with French novels.

Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed with the plotline – it was unoriginal and predictable. Furthermore, the entire work was sprinkled with disparaging comments about women, both from the characters as well as the narrator. Yes, I understand this was a part of the plot (or perhans de Balzac’s personal views), but it still rubbed me the wrong way. Not to mention the fact that the women all behaved either like greedy and heartless monsters, like Mademe Vauquer, or like deceitful, egotistical and downright cruel, like Goriot’s two daughters. The only redeeming woman was Victorine – but then she annoyed me for being too frail.

I have never had much interest in reading about Parisian high society and I can’t stand women who faint and/or cry at the drop of a hat; therefore this was a rather bland read.

Having said all that, this is a great novel for discussion as it deals with money, family, deceit and how much the characters value each. As always, this ended with people realising their mistakes and if it had ended differently I may have liked it a bit more.

4/5 because of the excellent writing (and the similarities I found between Rastignac and Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment). I look forward to reading more works by de Balzac.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Friday Funs

Presented with no comment because I am yet to graduate and maybe one of my lecturers will see this.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Den Unge Werthers Lidanden/The Sorrows of Young Werther by J. W. von Goethe 4/5 [re-read]

First published: 1774
Original title: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers
Original language: German
Translation to English by:
R D Boylan, 2002
Page count: 182


GoodReads says: For more than two centuries the very title of this book has evoked the sensitivity of youth, the suffering of the artist, the idea of a hero too full of love to live. When it was first published in Germany, in 1774, The Sorrows of Young Werther created a sensation. Banned and condemned but embraced – especially by the young – it has continued to captivate.

I say: I downloaded this from Manybooks.com as well as borrowed two Swedish versions by different translators, and then I read the English version and compared the Swedish versions before settling on one translation that I can’t remember and may look up sometime never.

So, The Sorrows of Young Werther is an epistolary novel made up of letters sent from Werther to his friend Wilhelm, where he tells of his life in a village where he falls unhappily in love with Charlotte, who is engaged to Albert. He walks around being extremely sentimental and reading, first The Odyssey by Homer and then Ossian by James Macpherson, comparing his life to these literary works. Realising that he’ll never get Charlotte, Werther leaves the village to work for a while, but later returns because he cannot stand to be away from her.

And then I can’t say much else as that would be a spoiler.

I recall reading this as a teen and thinking Werther melodramatic and rather silly, but still loving the language, and I felt the same way this time. Perhaps enjoying the language much more than I recall – both the English and Swedish translations were wonderful and I am in love with Goethe’s wordsmithery.

And yes, I am aware that ‘wordsmithery’ isn’t a real word.

Anyone who knows me (or reads this blog regularly) knows that I don’t like sentimentality – at all – and Werther is no exception. I did find myself annoyed with his constant lamentations and thick-headedness, but it was said in such a beautiful way I could co-sign a lot of his metaphors and similes. Perhaps it’s the archaic English (and Swedish) that throws me off, because I am very much aware of the abundance of hyperbole in his letters.
Must it ever be thus, that the source of our happiness must also be the fountain of our misery? The full and ardent sentiment which animated my heart with the love of nature, overwhelming me with a torrent of delight, and which brought all paradise before me, has now become an insupportable torment, a demon which perpetually pursues and harasses me.

I mean, that is some serious embroidery, but somehow it doesn’t make me too nauseous. 

Words aside, what I found most interesting was Wether’s philosophising about life and death. It reminded me so much of Albert Camus’ thoughts on the absurd that I got slight chills reading it. Although Werther was mad with love for a woman he couldn’t have, and I don’t particularly want to condone his final decision, I absolutely understand it – and actually think it gives the novel all the depth that makes me love it.

I feel the need to explain myself (even though I shouldn’t have to) by saying that as a self-professed absurdist, I understand his final decision, even though I wouldn’t encourage anyone to follow his example.

Aside: that should keep me covered.

Since I cannot really go any further with this review, as everything I want to discuss is of a philosophical nature (having covered the literary one in class), I’ll merely say that this gets a 4/5 because of the hyperbole and silliness of Werther, but I still think this is a novel everyone should read – preferably in their teens (after they’ve gotten over their first heartbreak).

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Wuthering Hights by Emily Brontë (2.5/5)

First published: 1847
Page count: 272


The back says: Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine's father. After Mr Earnshaw's death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine's brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

I say: I had to read this for uni as well as for my 100 Classics Challenge and I am absolutely thrilled that I was able to kill two birds with one really bad book, because I hated it.

I really just hated it.

And mostly because all of the main characters, sans Mr Lockwood and Isabella and Edgar Linton, were some kind of insane. Maybe the maid Nelly wasn’t really insane (as such) but she was a meddling old lady that needed to keep her mouth shut on more occasions than I cared to count.

Having said that, I cannot believe how anyone would dare to think that Heathcliff and Catherine are/were a great literary couple. Their love was abusive and self-destructive beyond words; and if they had only done the decent thing and ran away or killed themselves it could have imploded on itself, wrecking only two lives. Instead, these two twits chose to be selfish and ruin everyone else’s life in the process. Catherine was a puerile, selfish, and histrionic bint who did anything for attention, and Heathcliff was a serious psychopath with a humongous chip on his shoulder and an irrepressible thirst for revenge.

Oh yeah, they sound like the sort of people I’d want to hang out with.

Putting these two idiots aside, the story itself was a whole lot of meh. There was nothing in there that interested me (add this Brontë to one of those Brits I find tiresome) and I have vague memories of reading this in my teens (I must have supressed it like I did with the other Brontë). The writing, mind me, wasn’t excellent, but tolerable (apart from Joseph’s dialogue in vernacular, which I cannot stand). It was full of nice symbolism; which is all well and good for when I am in literary science mode – and I would love to just pick this novel apart – but when reading for pleasure, I just couldn’t deal with the descriptions of the weather and landscape.

When I get too negative about books I tend to want to stop (because I don’t want people to hate them based on my opinion – and also because I can’t be arsed to go on and on about them), so I shall leave it at that. This gets 2.5/5 because of the writing – the story itself would get 1/5.

And I must just comment and laugh at the contrived ghost story element at the end (and actually at the beginning as well).

I mean, seriously!?

Ha.
Aside: This is apparently Edward and Bella's (from Twilight) favourite book, which makes their relationship make all kinds of sense. And no, I didn't actually know that. Pfft. I read it here.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee (4.5/5)

First published: 1999
Page count: 219


The back says: After years teaching Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, has an impulsive affair with a student. The affair sours, he is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy's isolated smallholding. For a time, his daughter's influence and the natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonise his discordant life. But the balance of power in the country is shifting. He and Lucy become victims of a savage and disturbing attack which brings into relief all the faultlines in their relationship.
I say: The first parts of this novel that deals with David having an affair, refusing to repent and moving to his daughter was interesting enough; but nothing special. It was intriguing to follow his reasoning behind not wanting to publicly atone, and I found myself agreeing with his principles – although not all of his actions that lead up to the point of being fired.

He had his pride – and not much else – so it’s understandable that he’d cling to that.
Then he moves to his daughter Lucy’s farm where she runs a boarding-house for dogs and sells her goods at a local market. Lucy has recently sold some of her property to her former farmhand Petrus, who is now trying to make a living for himself off his land. Just as David is becoming accustomed to his new life, they are robbed and his daughter is raped by three black men, which leads to consequences I cannot really discuss without it being a major spoiler, but I have to say that I never saw the conclusion coming and it sent chills down my spine.

It was extremely powerful and poignant and will always stay with me.
I have to point out that this novel is set in South Africa, which means that racial relations are what they are; especially with David and Lucy being white and their attackers black. If one wants to, and many have, one can turn this into a commentary on race and racial relations in South Africa – in fact, Coetzee has been called a racist for this novel. However, I am not going to touch that with a ten foot pole keyboard because I’d have to write an entire dissertation and I simply cannot be arsed. To me, this hits deeper at a female level than at a race level because of the consequences of Lucy’s rape and the choices she makes. It was hard for me not to put myself in her shoes and wonder what I would have done, bearing in mind that she was a single female running a farm on her own prior to her father’s arrival (she’d previously had a roommate who had left). Yes, I am aware that the fact that she was a single white female in post-apartheid South Africa is a huge part of the story, and that is part of what makes it interesting. However, that wasn’t the only thing the novel was about.

I didn’t instantaneously read David’s reaction as that of a white man being violated by black men, but more of a man being violated by other men. There are deeper layers of racial tension that emerge as the story progresses, but I can’t discuss them without it being a spoiler, so I won’t.
There are a lot of philosophical questions presented in this novel, and I like the way Coetzee weaves them into the dialogue without much pretence. They discuss human versus animal nature and the consequences of having their instincts repressed; whether or not we should say conform to society’s expectations; and how much we are willing to sacrifice to save our dreams.

There is also the question of disgrace – of course – not only David’s after his relationship with a student, but also Lucy’s after the attack. Who defines disgrace and how much does it alter our lives?
This gets a 4.5/5 because of the difficulty I had believing David’s conduct with his student – not all of it rang true to me.