Sunday, May 19, 2013

A duo of dispatches. Of Questionable Class.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

E.L. James with her book
I had heard mostly derisive stuff about Fifty Shades of Grey. I picked it up at a whim, from the boy at the Haji Ali crossing in Mumbai, the one who sells glossies and photocopied novels wrapped in cellophane, the same one who had the Ken Starr report out even before we could drive to work, log on to Reuters, and drink in the salacious shenanigans of a beleaguered American President.

Fifty Shades of Grey has few literary pretensions, but I did not expect it to be so poorly written. The heroine of the Mills and Boon variety of romance novels, is transplanted into the twenty first century between the pages of this book. But whereas Anne Mather et al, wrote dreamily of hopelessly helpless damsels landing Mr. Right, the protagonists were depicted as coherent, even articulate in their expression. Whereas the 50 shades heroine mucking around in the potentially dangerous world of BDSM is trite as trite. She is supposedly interested in literary fiction but her inner monologue cannot get past “Holy cow! He is so hot!” and ‘Holy shit! He was coming for her now.’ However she has the usual identifying features of the romance novel heroine, including above average but unspectacular looks, lack of poise, a tendency to blush, virginity and importantly, a go with the flow attitude. Our damsel is chased by her hero Mr. Grey, and the graphic action takes off from here, for Mr. Grey is no Mr. Right but deals in Bondage and Dominance.

It gets racier but the writing does not get any better. I could give you meme theories and marketing success stories, but you have to hand it, no product, no readership. My points in favor of the book—

It is graphic but less so than mainstream pulp writers like Irving Wallace and the later day Harold Robbins—am I dated and located by my reading?—E.L James has kept the content from tipping over the abysmal edge. There are no ad-nauseum descriptions of a woman’s anatomy. Or for that matter a man’s. If you don’t count, “He is so hot.”

Once you reconcile yourself to her irritating holy cows, and get past the distressing fact that a BDSM Non-Disclosure Agreement does not freak her out, (and temptation is a mitigating factor here,) the heroine is actually credible.

In terms of the politics of the book, the heroine is weaker, poorer, less regarded by the world, than her weird boyfriend. She does not wish to submit, but her hormones, her compassion, her curiosity, her gushing mates, her approving parents, her otherwise powerless, lonely condition, are all pushing her under his thumb. Will she or won’t she stand up for herself? Will it or won’t it work out? These are universal themes; to negotiate unequal power relationships is not a theoretical exercise for women the world over.  

Women have been much too repressed. There is a dearth of graphic literature that works well for women.

Why is Grey the way he is?  Women have a biological interest in nurture, in seeing how children shape up. E.L. James has handled the suspense well, and she has ammunition in the form of back stories to last her a sequel or two. Will I pick them up? Umm, no. Too many books to read, too little time.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

A good looking couple, uprooted from New York City living in the Midwest.  There is something strange going on between the two when the novel opens and soon, the girl is gone. That is, we are in Part one proper of the book—Boy loses Girl. Part two follows—Boy Meets Girl. The concluding part is the reassuringly titled— Boy Gets Girl Back (and vice versa).  It seems a rather neat way to describe Gone Girl, and all credit should go to Gillian Flynn, the author of this year’s runaway bestseller sensation.

The book is in the form of real time accounts of the ‘boy’—the thirtysomething Nick Dunne who has been accused of 'disappearing' his wife Amy. Interspersed with his account is Amy’s version of events. So, the book is not only a first class thriller but also, because of its narrative structure, a peek into a modern marriage.  We are Aunt Abby as Nick and Amy take turns crying on our shoulder, giving us their viewpoints and their excuses. And like most people who try to make peace between warring couples, we realize soon enough that we are the fools dancing to the tunes of two unreliable narrators. But just like in real life, this too adds to our fascination, this desire to apportion blame, making the suspense in the story—who is the baddie?—that much more unbearable. We may have taken sides, and although Flynn manages a few surprises, at some point, it becomes not so much of a mystery as a thriller—we want our side to prevail. That keeps us turning the pages although like most thrillers, Gone Girl deteriorates as it moves closer to the end, relying on over the top climactic events to rescue the plot from the corner it has been painted into.  It is all tied up neatly in the last chapters though not everyone will be satisfied —I was not— but hey, isn’t this the era of the sequel? Will I read it? I might.

And the reason is that Gillian Flynn is a writer of enormous talent, with a gimlet eye for the ridiculous and everything else. Take this, from Nick Dunne: ‘We named the bar The Bar. “People will think we are ironic instead of creatively bankrupt”, my sister reasoned.  Yes, we thought we were being clever New Yorkers, that the name was a joke no one would get like we did. Not meta-get. We pictured the locals scrunching their noses: Why’d you name it The Bar? But our first customer, a gray haired woman in bifocals and a pink jogging suit, said, “I like the name. Like in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Audrey Hepburn’s cat was named Cat.”’

Give me a writer who can weave something like that into a regular thriller; along with observations of a town going bust, of homeless people living in deserted malls, of tamed husbands shown off as trophies, of the media circus that crime reportage has become. Gone Girl has all this and more and if Gillian Flynn channeled her social satirist more and her latent Hadley Chase or Ruth Rendell less, I would have been happier, but we cannot ask for everything.

Read it on the beach, in a plane. Do not pick it up when you have stuff to do. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dithering woman speaks - On Intuitive Surgical (Ticker ISRG)

Now and then my husband asks me for a call on our investments. My thoughts on the Intuitive Surgical Story have run away with me.

Intuitive Surgical is a US based company that makes robotic surgical systems. There is a surgeon who sits on a computer console from where he directs the robot to perform laparoscopic surgery.  

Laparoscopic surgery means surgery where the surgeon has no direct visual access to the surgical field. He sees through the laparoscope. The laparoscope is a tube attached with video cameras, and it is inserted into the patient through a smaller incision. Using the image from the endoscope, the surgeon traditionally uses long handled instruments to perform the surgery. This is also called Minimal Invasive Surgery – MIS for short.

Suppose you dropped your ring in the trashcan. You could wade in and get your hands dirty or you could shine a torch and look carefully before picking it up with a pair of long handled forceps. The second option requires more skill. What you do is key when that trashcan happens to be a human body. Surgeons receive special training for laparoscopic surgery.

The Intuitive Surgical Robot is called ‘da Vinci’. It has 4 arms and it can be moved around the operating table. 2 arms have surgical tools like scissors scalpels etc. 1 arm has electrocautery instruments, 1 arm has the endoscope with two lenses.

Using the console the surgeon maneuvers with his two hands the two tool arms of the robot. With his left foot he manipulates the lever that controls the robot’s endoscopic 3rd arm that gives stereoscopic visual access to the surgical field. With the right foot he controls the AC current flow to the 4th electrosurgical arm for cutting/blood coagulation/ cauterizing purposes.

So you’re not struggling with those long forceps, you have your own friendly robot, wristed and all, capable of listening to your remote control commands to pick that ring up. An expensive but probably the better solution, right?

Makes sense, and the operational and financial success of Intuitive Surgical attests to it. It has helped that the company has pursued an aggressive and concerted marketing strategy, managing to make inroads in the medical sector, selling the robots in greater and greater numbers. How did they do this? By going directly to the customers to explain the advantages of robotic surgery so that patient demand drove hospital purchases. The sales team is linked into the use of the machines in the hospitals and is looking at all times to increase applications.

Intuitive Surgical has shown great results. It is trading at USD 500, with a Price to Earnings ratio (exactly what it means -  Price of the share divided by the Earnings per share; Earnings per share is again what it means Net profit of the Company divided by the Number of shares of the company) of 29; Net Income at USD 657 mio has exceeded expectations. And the market for revolutionary surgery techniques should only grow.

However some questions have been raised. Apparently evidence that robotic surgery delivers much benefit when compared to other MIS (minimally invasive surgery) is scarce. Since it is much more expensive this puts a question mark on insurance funding. Then there is the matter of lawsuits that allege that system malfunction has resulted in adverse surgical results, which would definitely be a negative. An FDA investigation has seen people scurrying to the MAUDE (Manufacturer and User facility Device Experience) database to make sense of what is going on. The product replacement initiated last week by Intuitive Surgical I feel is very key although the market has not responded to it.

The naysayers like Citron say that the P/E multiple should be in line with that of the medical devices industry while the yaysayers like Motley Fool contend that the numbers look good, it is the technology of the future and what more do we need.

So buy or sell?

I was very ambivalent about rat dissection in school. I was never starry-eyed about cutting up a rat and labeling its innards, I was clear I did not want to be a doctor. But Biology came easy to me, as a good middle class Indian I did not want to close a door to professional success, just like that. But I was bad at the cutting pasting, knotting and sewing kind of craft. The dissection started with one delicately pinching and pulling outward the chest skin of the rat with forceps, then making a tiny incision with the scissors. The technique now was to maneuver the scissors into this incision and through that split open the rib cage without cutting the heart. I could not do it.

I remained nonplussed until tired of my own hesitation I grabbed the rib cage with my hands and split it apart. It was neat and it worked. My dissection looked the same as everyone else but had been performed by touch rather than sight. My teacher commented as she walked by, “She will be a doctor!” I have no idea what she meant, but I wonder how many doctors depend on tactile feel for completing their surgery. Now the ones who perform traditional laparoscopy are obviously the superior craftsmen, so how about the ones who are not, who are being co-opted into new age techniques that rely on optics rather than haptics (communication by touch)? How many of them are being coerced into jumping on the new age bandwagon? Nothing wrong with that, but only some of them will be able to do it. Who is monitoring that?

It reminds me of the derivative business of banks. Derivatives have great value. They monetize risks, parcel out value and cut across market inefficiencies. But in the hands of fools and rogues it can become dangerous. More fools than rogues they.

What are derivatives? Let me give you an example. You want to buy your rented house but not at current levels. At some point the market starts to move down, down, down until at last you feel it is time to buy. But now you have a new problem; your landlord also feels that the property market cannot go any lower, or he is in the middle of a messy divorce and has no time to look at your bid. What do you do? You curse your luck of course. But what if you buy a different apartment? As and when the landlord decides he needs to sell to pay off his alimony, you could sell the apartment you had bought and buy the house. If the property market had risen like you thought, you would still make the gain on the sale of the purchased apartment, which would offset the higher costs of the house. If the reverse happened, well, you were going to buy your house at a higher price anyway.

What if you have an agent who sells apartments whose value corresponds to the house that you are trying to buy? The apartment is a derivative asset, standing in for your intended house, and the agent is your derivative salesman. But the more transactions you do, the greater are your transaction costs, and the cost of unwinding your arrangements if circumstances change. There is also the risk that the linkage between your derivative asset and the underlying asset starts to unravel. But your agents' commissions increase all the time. If apartment prices collapsed while bungalow prices skyrocketed- the agent is fine, you are the one with the big hole in your pocket. So here is a high value, high involvement, agent-intensive product, which does not reward the agent for alignment with your needs but for turnover. And if you disregard this basic fact, at some point, the sh—t will hit the fan. If a business imagines that a high involvement and high-risk product should be a revenue stream, then that business is a high-risk business.

That is what I think is happening to Intuitive. It is a high-involvement product that requires high-end practitioners and regulatory oversight, both of which are missing now. Another story where the marketing is overreaching itself. Further the product design is not being driven by the practitioner, but by the manufacturer. And for every doctor who embraces the da Vinci Robot enthusiastically, there is one who is taking it doubtfully perhaps fearfully, but the learning curve they say is steep and soon everyone is jollying alone. Until the sh—t hits the fan. This is not the iPod or the Tesla car, with its hyper perfectionist sexy bosses but a regular nuts and bolts operation, with an aggressive marketing department. I will not give it a different P/E multiple than the rest of the medical devices industry.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Yacoubian Building - Alaa Al Aswany

The Yacoubian Building stands in downtown Cairo, a handsome Art Deco building, housing offices and some old time residents. The author, a dentist by occupation opened his first clinic here.
A building bearing the same name and perhaps modeled on the original, is the setting for the novel. 

Originally written in Arabic, it traces the lives of the various building residents. They pursue different professions, profess differing allegiances, swing different ways, but they are all united in their subjection to the Egyptian condition. That is how the book started to appear after I had gotten through a third of it—initially I thought it was a pretty, slice-of-life narrative that would affirm some fuzzy-warm, feel-good aspect of humanity. I expected an Egyptian R.K. Narayan as I took in the various characters and their back-stories, but at some point I got rather startled by the sheer carnality of the book.  I wondered among other things, about the author's attitude towards homosexuality. He implies a character turned homosexual after being abused as a child, and seems a little too fixated on the actual act. No R.K. Narayan this. It is almost as if the sexual exploitation of the poor young by the established wrinkled is the thread that binds the stories, with a few accounts of lust making in happier circumstances standing out. Tad depressing. However, the writer has a mesmeric voice and despite the all- too aggressive male gaze that informs his observations, he tells his stories with a touch of understanding and compassion. It is just enough to keep the book from becoming either a political rant or a piece for the prurient. Also, Al Aswany manages to sew up a lot of Egyptian history, politics and culture in his novel, giving one a snapshot picture of modern Cairo society. 

The book made me understand how the latest revolution had come about. Clearly even the middle classes—the ones willing to work hard and keep their head down, if only they had some prospects—had become disaffected in Egypt. In India, which is not exactly behind in the exploitation and corruption parameters, there has been some trickle down to the middle layer. Does one attribute that to democracy or press freedom or both?

 The book reads very well and the translation is superb. I love the Arabic cadence and the switch to present tense for descriptions – a West and South Asian conceit that I am much partial to.  It is important to me that the book was a runaway bestseller in the Arab world. It reminded me too much of Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk, and the resonance suggests that truth is reflected in the stories of the Yacoubian Building. I can only hope the author, in his zeal had not given thought to the fact that so many shocking but perfectly conceivable stories cannot take place at once. It is a bit like ‘A Fine Balance’- almost everything bad that can happen in India happens to the four likeable protagonists of Rohington Mistry’s novel.

Yet unlike Mistry’s book, the Yacoubian building does not end in despair. It shows people acting out their wants, and at some level reconciling to their situation. They do not get a great resolution, but it could be worse.

Definitely go for the book. It speaks the truth, is racy but not a rag. And great if you want an introduction to contemporary Arab literature.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Disgrace by JM Coetzee

In order to truly discuss a book, one has to presume prior knowledge on the part of the reader. Disgrace is such a book. I could not begin to give you the infinite twists and turns in the plot of a Satanic Verses or a Master and Margarita, but Disgrace has a straightforward narrative. To discuss the book may mean letting the story out of the bag.

JM Coetzee
Disgrace won JM Coetzee his second Booker. His Nobel thereafter, catapulted him to iconic status. The power packed economy of his writing is valuable in this busy world of low attention spans, where people want to get a million things done and contemplate the life, the universe and everything. Disgrace allows you to do just that – read a thought provoking, deep and complex novel, in the course of a short haul flight. To the plot then, and for people avoiding spoilers, they are in italics. I mean the spoilers are in italics. Mostly.

The opening:

“For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well.”

‘He’ is David Lurie, a white man in post apartheid South Africa, a scholar and Professor, paid to teach communication when he would rather be discussing poetry. His ‘solution’ is Soraya from an escort agency. His Sorayan trysts end one day, owing to circumstances of his own making. He then starts a relationship with a young student, who nearly comes undone by the affair. An inquiry follows - Lurie refuses to apologize and is forced to resign. Footloose and fancy free, he serves up at his daughter’s small-holding where horror awaits. They are attacked in their house, his daughter Lucy is gang-raped. They do not expect justice, but it appears Lucy must make peace with her attackers, actually submit to them in a manner of speaking, if she wishes to keep her land and be safe in the new South Africa. Lurie is unable to help an increasingly remote Lucy. At the same time he begins to be drawn to the voiceless and the helpless. He helps out at an animal shelter, working hard to dispose of slaughtered stray dogs in a manner that dignifies them, he shifts the focus of his work from Byron, to Byron’s long forgotten, perhaps ridiculed mistress. He persists thus, despite a suspicion that his efforts are almost ludicrous in the context of the injustices of this world. The book comes to an end.

You would not want to read such a depressing book, but it is a real page-turner. The settings are perfectly etched, the characters credible even if their actions are at odds with one’s reasoning. We are swiftly sucked into the story and from there we ponder the themes and characters of the book-

The Problem of Sex: As a married woman maybe I have little right to judge the plight of a single man, but I come from a land where child widows had to go about with shaven heads lest they tempted someone to tempt them, if that makes sense. The western analogue-  the spinster stereotype, old, virginal, unattractive, was no less pathetic. I have felt a residue of sadness for Jane Austen and my late physically handicapped uncle who never married, but I can’t bring myself to sympathise with Lurie’s predicament. Why is he unable to take himself in hand, why does lack of ‘action’ make him go to pieces, spur him to act increasingly audaciously? Lurie’s excuse is that it is his nature, that one cannot fight one’s nature. Is that the fault of the South African experiment, to ascribe immutable natures to different people? Apartheid society failed to civilise a man like David Lurie, post-apartheid society is failing in the same way. Is that Coetzee’s point?

The book makes me think of the legitimacy of 'nature' as an argument. Are men's needs more legitimate? I wonder at the ad clip for the ethical porn site A defiant voice-over, a rush of erotic images, mostly women, the camera finally zooming to the speaker, a wheelchair bound MAN. The site claims to support a pluralistic sexuality and is against subjugating our sexuality to marketing standards. I doubt the ad clip can reel in the women gritting their teeth on abstinence. Not, I think, with the male-centric ad, the too hip project team. If they could, they would be laughing their way to the bank – ask E.L.James.

Is David Lurie reprehensible? I did not mind David Lurie so much. First off I have the protagonist syndrome, thanks to Coetzee’s third person Lurie POV narrative. Lurie is a reliable narrator, and I am susceptible to a sensible and sensitive perspective, however flawed. That probably makes me a loser in the power stakes (it’s all about establishing one’s perspective over others, and presumption is a pre-requisite, is it not?)

No, but I get the code David Lurie lives by - the exercise of free will. If he gets carried away, it is owing to his passions, and please bear with my definition of passion: His passion makes him follow Soraya, unwanted, unasked, into her home-ground, it is his passion that makes him lose his head over Melanie. But then, his high strung nature acts as a check. I do not see him enjoying the exercise of brute force, or profiting by manipulating others. Just as his attractiveness (up until now), and the predominance of his race (up until now, which no doubt, added to his attraction-up until now), did not teach him to deal with sexual rejection, so is he incapable of going against the societal framework that has served him so well all these years. As I see it, his main fault is his ignorance of powerlessness.

My mother wonders at Soraya, a family woman leading a double life. What if she were frightened, or neurotic or otherwise stressed when Lurie calls her? He was coming close to unravelling someone’s life, playing with the life of her children. My rejoinder is that he does leave her alone in the end. More importantly he is sensitive to every subtle shift in his relationship with Soraya; and that is less aggressive and more lover-like.

David Lurie reminds me of Tony Webster, the protagonist of Julian Barnes’s Sense of an Ending – both men have the same smug air of self-sufficiency. There is a further parallel in their having to face up to their past deeds, although Coetzee is harsher with Lurie than Barnes is with Webster. Lurie gets everything back a thousand fold. If he is predatory in his relationships, his daughter gets raped, if he blames his nature, his daughter is raped by Pollux who can’t help his mental deficiency! But Lurie shows character in adversity. His apology to Melanie’s family is a counterpoint to his refusal to abase himself before the inquiry committee. By the way, I admire his attitude with the committee. I prefer arrogance to hypocrisy.

And yes he finds Melanie’s sister attractive and he disapproves of unattractive women, but come on, I will not find fault with what people think inside their heads. We can allow their nature that much! He is not a Humbert Humbert either, Melanie is much older than Lolita. And remember Lurie’s ex-wife is a friend. In fact, my heart goes out to Lurie, singing for Byron’s forgotten mistress, to a three-legged dog. I wish I could tell him it is not comic, the tinny banjo strain. There is a key line in the book, a part of Lurie’s inner monologue – he (Lurie) can, if he concentrates, if he loses himself, be there, be the men, inhabit them, fill the men with the ghost of himself. The question is does he have it in him to be the woman? My verdict is that Coetzee can be the aggressor through Lurie, only up to a point. To the women then.  

Melanie’s inexplicable behaviour: Melanie comes from a provincial family, she is inexperienced and possibly in awe of her professor, maybe she even crushed on Lurie- he first finds her dawdling in his path, she has spoken of him to her family. While her father speaks in stock phrases (we put our children in your hands, nest of vipers, so help me God, how the mighty have fallen, break bread with us), Lurie’s terse apology, contains one exquisite line, the confession that ‘he lacked the lyrical. (Of course he continues to lack the lyrical, to intrude, disturb, explain, demand indulgence. The lyrical would require him to be silent.) But Lurie's  sophistication and sensitivity must be attractive to Melanie. His lifestyle, his books, his erudition, his experience of the world must be glamorous, even heady. The rub is that she finds him physically unattractive. 

But does she like his company? Does she end up accepting that the cost of his company, this introduction to a rarefied life, or let us take a different scenario, the cost of obtaining refuge from her own complicated or banal life, is to agree to have sex with him? And does that capitulation undo her? And him too? For lacking the lyrical?

I left IIT after two months because I lacked the vocabulary to tell my father I was really happy at the Institute, that I thought that if I worked hard I could get into the coveted engineering program. I felt no legitimacy in my arguments, it seemed spoilt of me to refuse a seat in the medical college. Moreover I was worried about the Electrical Circuits Test. Why was that? Because when my father arrived at my hostel to take me back to Chennai where the medical college awaited me, I wasted five minutes bursting into tears. Then I remembered that my professor had threatened to mark us as absent if we were more than five minutes late, so I missed the entire class, which I decided would surely set me back in the coming test, which meant I had even less of a leg to stand on if my plan was to get a branch change. So I advanced no sensible arguments, only threw a super tantrum, hoping my father would say Amrish-Puri-like , “Ja Simran ja, yeh KGP jaise koi tere ko khush nai rakh saktha, ja, apni zindagi jee”. (Go Simran, go. No one can keep you happy like KGP does. Go live your life) My nod to that silly movie DDLJ. In the movie it is  Raj not KGP. Check out the link below.

My father did nothing of that sort, instead he kept asking me what I wanted!

Sorry for that autobiographical dose, but the point is that those five minutes became a missed test, which made me believe that my career in IIT was finished and that I had to go elsewhere. We make decisions for the vaguest of reasons in our youth and our folly. Maybe Melanie wanted to get away from her boyfriend, maybe she felt let down by Lurie, maybe the missed test became a big deal, to the point where she became confused within and buffeted by all without. Melanie Isaacs is out of her depth from the beginning, but it is Lurie’s fault in not grasping that her problems could become his problem. 

Melanie is probably 'Coloured'. I don’t know much of South African society but if Lurie, a poor professor, represents a certain world, then the hard working petit bourgeois Isaacs household with their pickles and cumin flavoured chicken stew must come from somewhere else. And not just that, the overt religiosity, the bombast that reflects a limited vocabulary, Desiree’s  now-now, the Chinese features of both the sisters, Isaacs’s hairless skin, the dark hair, the dark eyes, Ryan the boyfriend’s warning to Lurie – stay with your own kind - I am sure of it. I will not even go into the play on Melanie’s name.

Disgrace was made into a movie starring John Malkovich as David Lurie. Good Casting!

Lucy’s inexplicable behaviour: It is clear that both Lucy and Melanie are unhappy with the sexual advantage that has been taken of them, yet they acquiesce to it in a most troubling way. I think Coetzee has inhabited Melanie very well- how about Lucy? Why is she willing to abase herself? Why is Bev complicit in Lucy’s harebrained decisions? Has Lucy’s sexual orientation made her differently attuned to life? Is it PSTD? I cannot answer these questions. But clearly Holland is not her idea of a safe haven like Lurie and the reader think it is. On the other hand she had found happiness working the land in South Africa and thinks she can give it a go, with the help of Petrus. Her father cannot help, he is increasingly irrelevant, jobless himself, his house in town burgled. Yet…how is she so placid when Pollux is found peeping into her bathroom, so irritated with her father for interfering? How does she end up pregnant? Is it a bid to tie the land to herself, produce a child of the soil? Will she be successful? Is she bending to the wind or has she been broken? Will she rise again?

Lastly, the character of Petrus: – I did not like him. It is all right to say my people, your people and propose all kinds of arrangements, but Petrus knows what he is about, and if he cannot  see it, he is no better than Pollux, the jackal boy. I am not a white or black man, I am a brown woman and Coetzee can show me all the parallels between Lurie and Petrus, I will not be lured by that kind of sophistry. Maybe Petrus and Isaacs are projections of Lurie, but if so, Lurie has done a good job of convincing me.

But where is the story going? Where is the disgrace in the transfer of power? I have to agree with TS from the book group that perhaps it is the story of South Africa. It is an indictment of South Africa, of the apartheid system that allowed men like Lurie advantages, of the current law and order situation that has reduced Lucy, a good woman to such abject straits. Like all of Coetzee’s works, it is a protest and a cry on behalf of the voiceless- Lucy and the dogs, Byron’s Teresa and men like Lurie who are unable to age gracefully.  Advocacy at its finest.

And I like that semi colons have been dispensed with, that commas are the way to go. Oh, and I love the creative process as Coetzee describes it, apropos ‘Byron’s Italy,’ the opera that consumes Lurie as the book draws to a close.  I could go on. I could transcribe the book.

Read the book every five years.