With all the criticism, book reviews and books written in response to JM Coetzee’s much-celebrated 1999 novel Disgrace. Fiona Snyckers with her latest offering simply titled Lacuna has done a sterling job in exposing the shortfalls of Disgrace. Snyckers has taken a bold decision and one might even say a controversial one at that to expose Coetzee’s lack of compassion for rape survivors and also his misogynistic attitude.
In Lacuna, Snyckers narrates a story of Lucy Lurie, a woman whose sexual assault gave Coetzee ‘fame, fortune and literary prizes’. However, in this novel, Lucy has found her voice and a platform to directly call out Coetzee for what he has done to her. Lucy wants Coetzee to admit that he has used her pain and suffering for his financial gain in Disgrace.
She also gives her own proper and accurate account of what actually happened on the night she was sexually violated by six men at her father’s farmhouse in Worcester. Lucy believes Coetzee ‘misappropriated’ her story and she wants to appropriate it.
While the book largely centres on Lucy’s story, Snyckers also discusses a theme which continues to dominate South Africa’s public course and that is, how rape victims and especially women continue to be treated unfairly by the judicial system. South Africa’s criminal and judicial systems continue to be hostile places for rape survivors, at times making rape survivors relive their ordeal in courtrooms and police stations.
She exposes the misogynistic and patriarchal attitude of male judges and prosecutors in South African courts, where women are to forced to forever defend themselves about why they are victims of sexual assaults. Lacuna does indeed open up discussion on how the justice system in this country should start doing some introspection on how it deals with rape survivors/victims. There has been a genuine call from different feminist organisations for male prosecutors to recuse themselves in rape cases.
Lucy decided not to testify against her father, because of the fear of having to relive all the trauma once more. Most women opt to not report sexual abuse case in police stations, for the fear of how police officers and eventually the courts will re-traumatise them and also demand receipts from them in order to be believed. After perusing through the pages of this book, one is expected to have mixed feelings on a whole range of issues, especially male parenting, given what David Lurie did to her own daughter.
I just hope that the ‘Australian’, since JM Coetzee has decided to abandon his South African roots, will one day respond to this beautifully crafted novel, preferably in a book form.