I had hoped to read one of the longer essays on Disgrace this evening after I finished some housecleaning and socializing. Unfortunately, I seem to have come down with one of those colds that don't quite qualify as "bad," but nevertheless make reading and other such activity difficult.
Since I didn't want today to be a total washout in terms of dissertation work, I decided to read James Hynes's "Sins of the Father," one of the more negative assessments of Coetzee's novel. Although Hynes finds the first section of the book "riveting," he faults Coetzee for lapsing into didacticism in the final three quarters of the novel (1). Declaring that the book "has a Calvinist sternness" and "a whiff of brimstone" in its "joylessness," Hynes wishes "for a recognition that life, even in the moral and political morass of post-apartheid South Africa, is not solely a moral obstacle" as he perceives Coetzee to present it (1).
Such a reading is fairly typical and, to be fair, more than a little understandable. Disgrace is, certainly, a novel that presents an austere and bleak picture of life, but I disagree with Hynes's statement "that Coetzee seems to lack . . . a profound sense of comedy" (1). True, the novel is not a laugh-a-minute joke-fest, but there is undeniably some humor in seeing Lurie's quixotic operatic aspirations reduced to the tinny plucking of notes on a child's toy banjo. Likewise, if we view Lurie as the less-than-exemplary man he is, much of the novel (recall his pitying attitude towards Bev Shaw during their tryst in the animal clinic) can be read satirically. Still, the humor is of a very thin variety and quite a few readers share Hynes's reaction to the novel.
For tomorrow: Same as today.
Hynes, James. "Sins of the Father." Rev. of Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee. Washington Post 16 January 2000: X1+.