The guy can write. And the stories he pulls together in this book demonstrate his range of material; the main character goes from a steady date with a Thursday afternoon hooker, to pursuing a student whom he is “mildly smitten” with and who creates a sexual harassment scandal which ousts him from the university, he is then propelled to the hinterlands where his daughter has a farm. Throughout, he is working on a book about Byron’s time in Italy, which morphs into an opera by the end.
Disgrace lurks in many forms in this book, from the university scandal, to the random attack of Lucy and her father on the farm, to the dumping of dogs carcasses into the incinerator (although the professor eases that disgrace by carefully loading them one by one).
In the early chapters, we are privy to the professor’s lectures on Byron and literature. Coetzee uses the scholar character to push the story forward. I liked that interweaving, layering.
This, an exchange between the professor and his student-conquest:
“I’m not so crazy about Wordsworth.”
“You shouldn’t be saying that to me. Wordsworth has been one of my masters.”
It is true. For as long as he can remember, the harmonies of The Prelude have echoed within him.
“Maybe by the end of the course I’ll appreciate him more. Maybe he’ll grow on me.”
“Maybe. But in my experience poetry speaks to you either at first sight or not at all. A flash of revelation and a flash of response. Like lightning. Like falling in love.”
The professor isn’t exactly excited about his students:
He has long since ceased to be surprised at the range of ignorance of his students. Post-Christian, posthistorical, postliterate, they might as well have been hatched from eggs yesterday.
Thanks to Kubis for the recommendation.