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11 November 2006

Coetzee: Not Chomping at the Bit of Plot

A scan of pp 72 and 73 in DISGRACE should give you a sense of J. M. Coetzee's handling of description as a window into his main charater . . the stuff I like in the text of this novel, "Disgrace".

It is the taking of shortcuts to move the plot along, especially where I sense that "David Lurie" would have tons of stuff running 100 mph through his consciousness, that I find Coetzee leaving me dry.


He has not taken to Bev Shaw, a dumpy, bustling little woman with black freckles, close-cropped, wiry hair, and no neck. He does not like women who make no effort to be attractive. It is a resistance he has had to Lucy’s friends before. Nothing to be proud of a prejudice that has settled in his mind, settled down. His mind has become a refuge for old thoughts, idle, indigent, with nowhere else to go. He ought to chase them out, sweep the premises clean. But he does not care to do so, or does not care enough.

The Animal Welfare League, once an active charity in Grahamstown, has had to close down its operation. However, a handful of volunteers led by Bev Shaw still runs a clinic from the old premises.

He has nothing against the animal lovers with whom Lucy has been mixed up as long as he can remember. The world would no doubt be a worse place without them. So when Bev Shaw opens her front door he puts on a good face though in fact he is repelled by the odours of cat urine and dog mange and Jeyes Fluid that greet them.

- The house is just as he had imagined it would be: rubbishy furniture, a clutter of ornaments (porcelain shepherdesses,
cowbells, an ostrich-feather flywhisk), the yammer of a radio, the cheeping of birds in cages, cats everywhere underfoot. There is not only Bev Shaw, there is Bill Shaw too, equally squat, drinking tea at the kitchen table, with a beet-red face and silver hair and a sweater with a floppy collar. ‘Sit down, sit down, Dave,’ says Bill. ‘Have a cup, make yourself at home.’

It has been a long morning, he is tired, the last thing he wants to do is trade small talk with these people. He casts Lucy a glance. ‘We won’t stay, Bill,’ she says, ‘I’m just picking up some medicines.’

Through a window he glimpses the Shaws’ back yard: an apple tree dropping worm ridden fruit, rampant weeds, an area fenced in with galvanized-iron sheets, wooden pallets, old tyres, where chickens scratch around and what looks uncommonly like a duiker snoozes in a corner.

‘What do you think?’ says Lucy afterwards in the car.

‘I don’t want to be rude. It’s a subculture of its own, I’m sure. Don’t they have children?’


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