Having been so impressed with J. M. Coetzee’s Age of Iron, I tried Disgraced, the book which, in 1999, won him the second of his two Booker Prizes. I did not think that Disgraced met the standards set in Age of Iron. But going to Amazon’s website and looking at the readers’ reviews, I saw something that I don’t think I have seen before to the same extent. People absolutely loved the book (5 stars) and people absolutely hated the book (one star) – extreme divergence. I’d probably leave it a about 3 stars. It is a Lolita-like book, with an older professor (if 51 is older) and a 20 year old student having an affair, initiated to her surprise by him, but from time to time welcomed by her (and from time to time, not welcomed). The affair is stopped when her perhaps violent boyfriend gets wind of it, as well as her parents, and an official complaint is lodged with the university, at which point he agrees to a voluntary termination of his employment. He leaves Capetown taking temporary shelter with his lesbian daughter (who has just broken up with her partner), who is running a farm solo in country not very friendly to young, lone white girls running farms. Terrrible things happen, etc., etc. I guess it is a book about male power (there is a older black male with a very young “wife” who helps out at the farm; perhaps his instincts are similar to the professor’s, but their social circumstances are different), there is an older woman who seduces the surprised, but willing for a while, professor. There is even dinner with the young girl’s parents at their house, where they are looking for an “apology”. But he is not really apologetic, at least not in his own terms; he is sorry for what happens, but not apologetic. And so it goes. 3 stars only. Surprised it won a Booker (but the 5 star Amazon reviewers aren’t surprised at all).
Food mediocrity: Dinner with friends at the vegetarian Vegetable Garden, a Chinese restaurant in Rockville that has been around for sometime now. It is not an expensive restaurant, but it goes out of its way to create complicated vegetarian dishes – too complicated, and usually just so-so (although they look pretty). And the next night, I found myself in Germantown MD alone and wanted a quick, light meal. I went into a shopping center Chinese restaurant called Peking Cheer; it was awful. I later went to on-line reviews. The reviewers were pretty consistent: this was a great Chinese restaurant……until new owners took over sometime last year. (I will say that Thursday night’s dinner at home, and last night’s at friends’, made up for the mediocrity).
I took a walk this morning to the Chevy Chase library to return Disgraced. On my way back, I saw an advertising sign for a house cleaning company with the message: “Cleaning is our Passion”. I thought about that, and wondered if it was really true. I know that some people are anal about cleanliness. Then, a private charter bus passed by. It was from the Reliable Bus Company. I wondered if reliability was their passion. Also, it could be the case. And then I wondered if I would want a cleaner who was passionate about cleaning. How would I get them out of the house? What if they wanted to come back that very afternoon? What if they were passionate, but unskilled. What is they just weren’t reliable?
Then I thought about slogans. I remembered the coffee shop in Dublin with a big sign that said: “Possibly the best coffee in Dublin”. I compared it to a sign I had recently seen on a Washington coffee shop: “The best cup of coffee in the world”. Geography aside, which one would you choose?
Cordelia and her father Lear: she loves him just as she should. No more, no less. But that wasn’t enough for Lear. He needed “Loving you is our passion”, or “The best lover of a father in the world”. It didn’t do him any good.
I think I will stick with reliability and possibly Dublin’s best coffee. And I think I’ll try another book by Coetzee.