Friday, March 13, 2009

More Disgrace/Scandal/Debt

I haven't learned to think before I blog. (And probably won't, so don't hold your breath.)

Disgrace and Notes on a Scandal are two very different books. And neither is really about an affair between a teacher and a student.

That is the incident that gets the ball rolling. It's a significant event, but both novels deal much more with power and loneliness. Sex (including rape and statutory rape) is a charged catharsis with vast political aftershocks.

The problem I have with Disgrace is that I never, at any point, liked this protagonist. I understood him, sure, but I spent two hours this evening in the company of a character I didn't like and never grew to love. I appreciated his principles (as far as he stood by them), but the protagonist's (psychological) affect was more reminiscent of Camus' The Outsider. I could not find a way to believe the relationship between him and his daughter, either. Maybe there is something about this aging-man POV I don't get or can't slip vicariously into; I've never read About Schmidt, but I'm not sure I should bother.

Coetzee is as erudite as his anti-hero, so the writing - the actual choice and placement of the words - is strong. The story moves along, and it did agitate me enough (at least intellectually) that I bit my nails. That's a good sign. I just didn't love anyone in the book at all. Is there a clinical detachment here from the writer? Or am I simply very sentimental as a reader, drawn to more sentimental stories? The novel was realistic, but realism does not always move me.

Both Notes on a Scandal and The Debt to Pleasure have strange broken characters who are somehow fun (or interesting) to inhabit, despite being unlovable. You love them in their despicable actions, in their twisted self-preserving logic.

Disgrace is a far-reaching novel. It touches on many themes with intelligence and depth, yet the emotional experience was tepid. Perhaps it is one of those books that will stay with me longer than I expect. Perhaps I am not well-read enough, and don't know enough of the classic literature references. (Like reading Camille Paglia or Harold Bloom, I felt very ignorant as to all the classics I have not read, and the potential layers of meaning I was missing.) Then again, a work should stand on its own.

I'm glad I read it (so people can stop telling me to read it), but will I walk past it at the bookstore, and grab my friend's arm, and say, "Hey! Have you read this?" while jabbing at its cover? No.

(Though I have to add: I really like the cover!)


WendyB said...

Blogging and thinking definitely don't go hand-in-hand in most cases. Don't mess it up for the rest of us by developing standards and shizz like that!

JuliaMazal said...

There's no chance of standards developing here! :-)