J M Coetzee's 1999 Booker Prize-winning novel takes its title from not one, but two instances of disgrace. In the first, David Lurie, a 52-year-old ‘adjunct professor of communications’ at a university in Cape Town (before the ‘great rationalization’ of higher education that followed the end of apartheid, he'd been a professor of modern languages), is sacked and his pension taken away after it emerges that he has slept with a female student. In the second, Lurie's daughter Lucy is raped by three black men who break into her ramshackle clapboard house in the Eastern Cape, to which Lurie himself has retreated following his sacking. The rapists douse Lurie in methylated spirits and he suffers disfiguring burns.
Lurie's atonement for his disgrace takes the form of a kind of self-abasement: he volunteers at a clinic run by Lucy's friend Bev Shaw, helping to end the lives of abandoned and unwanted dogs. And, as if to announce a definitive end to his career as a sexual