A Nobel Novel Comes to Life; Sex and Power in Post-Apartheid South Africa a Compelling Tale

Article excerpt

Byline: Kelly Jane Torrance, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well, J.M. Coetzee's Booker Prize-winning novel Disgrace begins.

But of course, David Lurie hasn't solved it at all, not in his own life or in his thoughts on the lives of others. His hubris will destroy his career but re-connect him with his daughter - and then shatter that relationship, too.

The Nobel Prize laureate's cutting novel of sex and power in post-apartheid South Africa has been brought to the big screen with all of the loneliness and most of the intelligence of the novel intact. John Malkovich is David, a Cape Town professor whose passion for the Romantic poets has become obsolete in a forward-looking age and belies his own safely predictable love life, which consists of a weekly appointment with a prostitute. That passionless routine is broken when he comes across one of his students one night walking home. Melanie (Antoinette Engel) was memorable in class only for her looks, but that's enough to make David come undone. He invites her back to his place, where he declares she must spend the night because female beauty is a gift one can't keep to oneself - or just one man.

The pair begin an affair, though Melanie doesn't seem particularly interested. David's willful ignorance of this fact leads to a complaint, an inquiry and finally a dismissal.

He finds refuge on his daughter's farm. Lucy's lover, a woman, has left, but the father and daughter (Jessica Haines) aren't alone. There are the dogs Lucy boards to make more money, and there's Petrus (Eriq Ebouaney), an African who's gone from handyman to co-proprietor. …