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Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Second Time Around

During the full time work years, re-reading a favorite book wasn't an impulse I often indulged. But doing so these past eight years has been one of the singular pleasures of my life. Which re-read has most recently given you a fresh jolt?

JM Coetzee's "Disgrace" has occupied a spot in my top twenty-five novels of all time since I first read it near its 1999 release date. What most struck me on this re-read is how the hard earned wisdom that infuses the novel is masterfully rendered yet, utterly matter-of-fact. For example, the chapters bookending the day of and the day after the attack on David Lurie and his daughter Lucy each begin with three words - "It is Wednesday." & "A new day." The author's restraint - contrasted with the brutality and ugliness in between those two simple declarative statements - is just one example of the command he has of his craft. The book brims with writing that never draws attention to itself.

Aside from a spirited conversation about the use of third person voice in "Disgrace", a good portion of the discussion at my book club centered on the moral of Coetzee's tale. No surprise - the discerning readers at the meeting could not agree what the author wanted us to take away. Have I ever read a truly great novel that led me to a single this-must-be-the-point conclusion? Have you? FYI, the ending here won't make you happy if you like books that tie everything into a pretty bow. Also, you may not care much for David Lurie. But I'm reasonably certain you won't forget him either.

BTW, this re-read convinced me David clearly still belongs on my Mt. Rushmore of flawed Dads from literature.


1 comment:

  1. No way does DISGRACE get anywhere near my top 25 novels. I just carefully re-read my chapter notes and was surprised that you assigned this selection to your book club. It is true that this novel is chock full of discussion topics: race, social class, sexual orientation, animal rights, the use and abuse of power.
    Certain statements deserve examination:
    1- There is a difference between pleading guilty to a charge and admitting you were wrong.
    2- Women should make an effort to be attractive.
    3- No animal will accept the justice of being punished for following its instincts.
    4- Lucy’s secret is David’s disgrace.
    5- “You think I ought to be doing something better with my life...Let’s share some of our human privilege with the beasts.”

    Pat, you talk about truly great novels not having endings “ that tie everything into a pretty bow.” I contend that the reader should not be led to a “to the point” conclusion; neither to a nebulous, ambiguous one. The author should lead me and leave me somewhere between these two states. Yes, it’s a tough job, but I know it when I see it. I took the ending of DISGRACE to be a good reflection on the soul leaving at death. But composing the music to an opera on Lucy’s old banjo? Give me a break!
    The novel I have most recently re-read is LINCOLN IN THE BARDO. Again I was jolted by its hilarity and sorrow, its many current topical themes and its creative ingenuity. George Saunders’ masterpiece is definitely in my top 25 favorite fiction novels.

    As always, thank you for reading my comments.