I literally just finished this book a few minutes ago, so I have not by any means worked though all of my reactions to it yet. It is written in a veryI literally just finished this book a few minutes ago, so I have not by any means worked though all of my reactions to it yet. It is written in a very spare, emotionally distanced style, even though it deals with very emotional topics. It is a page-turner, an absorbing, fast read that keeps you anxious to find out what happens next -- but that seems almost incidental, besides the point. I thoroughly disliked the main character, David Lurie -- he is unbelievably arrogant and chauvinistic -- but that seemed less and less important as the novel went on, and totally irrelevant by the end. In fact, I don't think there is a single likable character anywhere in this book, not even Bev Shaw (she is admirable, I think, but not likable). But these characters and their lives have so much to say to the reader that their likability just doesn't even enter into it.
This is an extremely complex book, with a lot going on -- I haven't even begun to unpack it all. At its core, it's about race, specifically about race relations in modern-day South Africa. But it also has a lot to do with gender politics and with animal rights (or, if not animal rights exactly, the treatment animals receive at the hands of human beings). Lucy, David's daughter, becomes the focal point for most of these issues, yet she, as a character, would eschew the whole notion of "issues". She doesn't deal in abstractions, only in the concrete necessities of daily life. She is -- all of these characters are -- hard to wrap your head around, hard to understand their motivations. Honestly, Lucy disturbed me even more than David disturbed me. David is an arrogant jackass who constantly romanticizes everything around him. Lucy, however, is a victim, a voluntary martyr. It is the role she has adopted for herself, the price she has decided she has to pay for being a white woman living in the South African countryside. She is powerless and oppressed -- not by other people, not by the society she lives in, but by herself. She may be trying to live a good life and be a good person, but I cannot imagine that anything good could possibly come out of the stance she chooses to take. She takes self-loathing to new and extreme levels, in my opinion.
So what is the disgrace that the title references? David's disgrace at the beginning of the book, being caught in an affair with a student? The disgrace Lucy feels from the rape? South Africa's disgraceful history of apartheid? The disgraceful behavior of the rapists and of Petrus, who is protecting them and may possibly have instigated the whole incident in the first place? Lucy's lack of self-respect? Her father's lack of empathy and connection with other human beings? Some other meaning I haven't considered yet? All of the above?
I don't know. But I know I will be thinking about this little novel for a long time to come. Haunting is, I think, the right word for it....more
I loved this novel. It was beautifully told, with some gorgeous language and amazingly distinct voices. I loved the structure of it, the way it was brI loved this novel. It was beautifully told, with some gorgeous language and amazingly distinct voices. I loved the structure of it, the way it was broken into books like a bible, the way each chapter was from a different character's point of view. And the first few books were utterly engrossing. While I was reading about the Price family's journey into Africa and the time they spent on their mission, I could not put the book down; it was that good.
I do think that it went on too long, though. The last book or so is about the Price girls' lives after that experience, what happened to them, and so on. It was just unnecessary, and dragged a bit. It also got a bit didactic and preachy -- I felt almost like I was reading a history book in some places: Africa, and Why the USA Should Leave It Alone. Those same points were made much more powerfully and subtly in the first half of the book, I think.
But that flaw doesn't detract from the overall power and beauty of this novel. There is a great deal of complexity in these pages -- it's about all kinds of things, from spirituality, multiculturalism, religion, the way religion gets all tied up in cultural imperialism, race, gender, poverty, the politics and history of the Congo, self-identity, and more -- but it's all wrapped up in an engaging story and vividly-drawn characters. I highly recommend it!...more