Sometimes award winners are truly deserving of their prize, and that is indeed the case with J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, which won the 1999 Booker Prize. Disgrace tells the tale of two disgraced individuals: David Lurie, a professor of poetry who refuses to publicly apologize for having an affair with a student, and his daughter Lucy. After being forced to leave his position at the university, David retreats to his daughter’s country home, where he slowly rebuilds his existence, only to be unable to help when Lucy suffers a brutal and savage attack. As both David and Lucy struggle with their shame and disgrace, their relationship frays, and each must find a way to carry on.
David retreats into the study of the life of Byron, of whom he has a great interest and dreams of emulating by leaving his home and escaping to Italy. Lucy similarly retreats into herself, unable to confront those who brought the attack upon her, and unable to handle the consequences wrought. Written to express the dilemma confronting the White people of South Africa, Coetzee has written a deep and subtle novel, perhaps best captured through David’s expression of how he might be able to move on: “Yes it is humiliating. But perhaps that is a good point to start from again. Perhaps that is what I must learn to accept. To start at ground level. With nothing… No cards, no weapons, no property, no rights, no dignity… Yes, like a dog”.