05 December 2009
Anyone who has cared to read my blogger profile will know that Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee is one of my favourite books. I read it a few years back. It may be one of the first books that I read where the main character with negative traits is presented with empathy.
David Lurie, middle aged intellectual, teaching Romantic Poetry at the Technical University in Cape Town has a fling with one of his young students and is accused of sexual harassment by her. He accepts being guilty as charged but refuses to apologise or repent. He leaves his job and goes away to stay with his daughter Lucy who has a farm in the countryside.
The book is basically a commentary about the post-apartheid South African society in a flux represented by David, Lucy and Petrus, her help in the farm, who will soon become the co-owner of the farm according to the new arrangement.
The film starring John Malkovich feels like virtual transposing of the book onto the screen. His acting has our complete attention (before watching the movie I’d the image of Coetzee himself for David with snow-white beard, balding head, specs etc. but now it is John). Even most of the dialogues are taken from the book. Initially I was very excited seeing such a literal adaptation. But, after a while I felt something amiss in the film. So, I read the book again (this time I bought the book, the last time I’d borrowed from a library). In the film David appears to be arrogant, sinister, addicted to the pleasures of flesh, almost evil; without any remorse or regret.
The book on the other hand, has the advantage of an omnipresent third person narrator who lets us peek into the thought process, vulnerability and the sense of wrong doing, which makes him all too human. It is amazing that the writer presents the view point of someone at the extreme end of the spectrum without being judgmental (that to an utterly despicable in normal circumstances).
John Malkovich talks about working in Disgrace in this interview.
Some writers who hide away in universities only write about the arguments they have had or the students they have screwed. They stay in the universities because they want security. And you can’t be a writer if you want to be safe. You end up writing about the mortgage and the safe job.
A comment that Sir Vidia made without naming names.
An interview of Anna-Maria Monticelli who adapted the screenplay.