Written in a simple matter of fact language without overt political references, the book initially belies a simple story about the changes in a man David Lurie. The book starts off with the sexual escapades of David Lurie, a middle-aged professor, first with a whore Soraya and then with his young student Melanie Isaacs. As the affair with Melanie is blown out of proportion bringing him disgrace and forcing him to resign from his position at the university, I could identify him with Humbert but of course unlike Humbert his victim was not a minor (was 21), was not helpless and dependent on him. More importantly he does not possess the gift of language like Humbert who had used it adroitly to justify his actions throughout the novel. David’s point of view is just presented in a simple matter of fact knowledge “I was acting as an agent of Eros”.
The book witnesses his transformation wherein earlier in the story he dismisses animals as lesser humans, possessing no souls but toward the end David commits himself to protecting the honor of dead dogs during incineration and makes a strong connection with a dog condemned to execution but still gives it up.
As the story progresses, the complexity of post-Apartheid times glares at the reader through the main plot itself, wherein Melanie (a mixed-race girl) persecutes David (a white man) for their sexual experience although it wasn’t rape but on the other hand his daughter Lucy doesn’t press charges against her three rapists (black men) and instead agrees to marry her farm help who allegedly had facilitated her rape and was related to one of the violators.
The book covers disgrace at every level of David’s after the affair, his daughter Lucy’s after a brutal gang rape only on account of her being a woman owning land (a tax as she terms it) and of dogs forced to die and be brutally incinerated once they have lost their purpose to the owners.
Coetzee’s love of animals is demonstrated in every novel and this novel is no exception. Here there are many allegories between men and dogs. When accused of sexual excesses with his student, instead of defending himself, David merely accepts his crime and relates the anecdote of a dog, trained by the master to be quiet but loses control at the smell of a bitch. The dog wants to be obedient but does not fathom how he can stop being himself. Even his daughter allegorically compares the rapists as marking the territory by raping as dogs do by peeing.
Overall, a simple yet disturbing novel!!
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