The basis of this novel is a professor, David Lurie, who ends up seducing (that's not the right word and I'll explain in a moment) a student of his. Lurie is 52, twice divorced and something of a sex addict (or just a man - you call it). He sleeps with prostitutes, chases young women, and views women through the filter of their attractiveness to him. His student, Melanie, is 20 and in the initial stages, this very much feels like a rape. Lurie even recognizes it:
"Not rape, not quite that, but undesired nonetheless, undesired to the core. As though she had decided to go slack, die within herself for the duration, like a rabbit when the jaws of the fox close on its neck. "
He continues on, not caring that he, as her professor, is doing any wrong. Finally, Melanie and her father bring up charges against Lurie. He loses his job and moves to his daughter's farm to get away from Cape Town. Things really do not work out much better there. He's immediately critical of his daughter's appearance, critical of the life she has made for herself and critical of her friends. Bev Shaw is one such friend who he is initially angry with:
"He does not like women who make no effort to be attractive"
He does try to settle in and help out on the farm as well as in the animal welfare clinic with Bev. Petrus is, initially, Lucy's help but ends up taking over part of the farm and no longer in the position to help. In fact, I believe, he cooked up an attack on Lucy and David in order to gain the rest of the farm. David is burned, Lucy is raped and all the dogs on the property are shot. Devastation.
David begins sleeping with Bev, Lucy turns inward and things start collapsing. The ending is a fairly surprising and upsetting turn of events. Disgrace is a place no one wants to live. Yet, everyone ends up there, trying to get out.
Considering the news of the day, this was a timely book to read. Amazing that the book club picked it a year ago, with no idea what was on our horizon in America. I didn't like many, if any, of the characters but they led me along with them anyway. It's astounding how people can orchestrate their own fall from grace (David) and how disgrace is forced upon others (Melanie, Lucy).
I've not seen the movie but will give it a try and report back!